CRESTVIEW — Tents full of eager residents lined the parking lot of the new Chick-fil-A restaurant Wednesday to await its grand opening the Thursday morning.
More than 100 people began arriving early Wednesday morning at the former Ryan’s Steakhouse site at 3000 S. Ferdon Blvd. in Crestview to set up camp and wait 24 hours for the official opening. Chick-fil-A had opened Tuesday to offer first responders and military members free breakfast.
Families, couples and church groups were among those who decided to stay overnight to get their first taste of Chick-fil-A. People took naps in their tents, played card games, participated in a game of four square and chatted with fellow Chick-fil-A lovers.
Some campers said they admired the company’s food and values. Chick-fil-A is known for being closed Sundays so employees can spend time with their families.
“We love Chick-fil-A, of course, and we love the Chick-fil-A beliefs,” said Emma Fetter, who was on hand with her husband, children and members of Central Baptist Church. “We love church and we love God. … When the news came about Chick-fil-A, we said, ‘Yeah, we want to do it.’ ”
The first 100 guests donned special pins that designate them as those who will receive free Chick-fil-A meals for a year. The 14-year tradition has resulted in the restaurant chain giving away more than $34 million in free food last year at other grand-opening events, according to a press release.
Lynisha Smith sat beneath a tent with her grandmother while they watched children play ball in front of the building.
“It’s a great time,” Smith said. “It’s fun for the kids.”
Crestview’s first Chick-fil-A restaurant is opening because franchise owner Kyle Schisler has a strong connection with the company. His father worked at the corporate Chick-fil-A Support Center in Atlanta for 35 years.
After working for a hotel group for a short time after college, Schisler said he was pulled to become an operator.
Schisler managed multiple locations across the country for two years before becoming one of the first stand-alone Chick-fil-A operators in Omaha, Nebraska. However, Schisler wanted to return to the Florida Panhandle to be closer to family.
His wife, Morgan, grew up in Panama City where her father was a multi-unit Chick-fil-A operator. Her uncle operates the Niceville location.
“Ironically, the new Crestview restaurant is off the same exit we used for food stops while traveling to baseball games during college,” Schisler said. “With Crestview being a military community, we will be honored to serve those who serve us, as well as the rest of the community.”
The almost 5,000-square-foot restaurant has an indoor play place for kids, more than 150 seats — including outside seating — and a 31-car drive-thru. A new 87-space parking lot also boasts bus parking. There also is a new entry and exit to the property.
The franchise will bring nearly 90 jobs to Crestview.