The news was released Monday of the death of Chick-Fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, who died Monday morning in his home at the age of 93.
The funeral service for Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy will be held today at Jonesboro First Baptist Church, with a private family burial scheduled for Thursday.
“As you can imagine, we are truly saddened by the loss of our beloved founder, Truett Cathy, at age 93,” Executive Vice President of Operations Tim Tassopoulos said as part of remarks given at the Chick-Fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta on Monday. “I first met Truett 36 years ago as a 19-year-old college student when I was working as an hourly Team Member at a Chick-fil-A restaurant here in Atlanta,”
Tassopoulous recounted the well known story of the founding of Chick-Fil-A back in 1946 in Hapeville Georgia. The original restaurant was called the Dwarf House, a moniker that would continue in some of the Chick-Fil-A restaurants, including one of the two locations in Fayetteville.
“When Truett created the Original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich, he never knew it would feed millions of people a year, nor be credited as America’s ‘Tastiest Chicken Sandwich’ by Consumer Reports.
“Over the years, Truett expanded Chick-fil-A to more than 1,800 Restaurants – in fact, the one we’re standing in opened just a couple of weeks ago,” said Tassopoulos. “He often talked about how he never planned for Chick-fil-A to be the size that it is today.
“For Truett, it was so much more than building a national chain. Truett’s Chick-fil-A was a place to give others good food, a warm smile and a break in their day. It also was a place where Truett could invest in people, giving them a first job, a place to learn about hard work and a place for many to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams,” Tassopoulous said.
Cathy made a major impact in Fayette County in particular, making a lasting mark especially toward the end of his life. Truett’s Luau was established last year on the corner of Highway 54 and Grady Ave. on the Waterfall property which the Cathy family owns and continues to redevelop.
It’s possible the most significant Cathy legacy in Fayette County will be Pinewood Studios, a project that would likely never have come to fruition without the financial backing from Cathy through Rivers Rock, LLC. Several of the major players in bringing Pinewood to Fayette County have said the financial backing to make the studio a reality could not be found until the Cathys stepped in.
Doug Mickey, long-time manager of the Fayetteville Dwarf House and Truett’s Luau, said in an interview Tuesday that Cathy “just had a love for the county.” He said the history of the Cathy family’s connection to Fayette goes back before Truett.
“They live right across the river in Clayton County,” Mickey said of the family. “They used to bring their horses into Fayetteville to get them shoed, that’s how long ago it was. That gives you a good start to what Truett thought of Fayetteville.”
Cathy saw Fayette County as “a great market,” Mickey said and a place where “the values of the people here in the county are very similar to his values.”
According to some analysis done locally, Mickey estimated that across the five Chick-Fil-A owned restaurants in the county, on an average day “about 10-percent of the people in Fayette County eat Chick-fil-A products.”
Mickey worked closely with Cathy over the last few years to make Truett’s Luau a reality and said he saw the one-of-a-kind Hawaiian-themed restaurant in Fayetteville as the “capstone on [Truett’s] his career, his finishing touch.”
The stories of Cathy’s efforts to get the restaurant built were shared at the grand opening by Mickey and others, and in some ways were a comical reflection of the man’s eternal ambition. Several that spoke at the grand opening noted they didn’t understand why he wanted to create the Luau, but were motivated to realize his vision.
“He told Dan, his son, in the last year of his career there were two things he wanted to do: finish his car barn and finish Truett’s Luau,” Mickey said. “Dan, who is a Fayette County resident, moved heaven and earth to make sure it was done in a way that would be pleasing to the customers.”
Mickey laughed remembering the way the elder Cathy told him, “I think over-big,” when Mickey would wonder whether his vision for the Luau actually be realized.
Mickey also pointed to Cathy’s WinShape Foundation established in 1984. According to Chick-Fil-A, the foundation “grew from his desire to ‘shape winners’ by helping young people succeed in life through scholarships and other youth-support programs. In addition, through its Leadership Scholarship Program, the Chick-fil-A chain has given more than $32 million in financial assistance to Chick-fil-A restaurant employees since 1973.”
That effort also included the WinShape Homes program, which operates 13 foster care homes according to Chick-Fil-A, and WinShape Camps, which house over 18,000 campers each summer for a “two-week summer camp to impact young people through experiences that enhance their Christian faith, character and relationships.”
Mickey said those efforts to influence young people were as important to Cathy as his business successes.
“The thing Truett would rather do than anything, if he had the CEO from Coca Cola and a 5 year old kid, he’d rather talk to the kid and give him that special attention. That’s just how he is,” Mickey said.
He said nurturing personal relationships and helping others always were atop Cathy’s mind, even in the last years of his life.
“The one thing I’ll tell you about Truett, in all the time I’ve ever known him, he’s never had an unkind word for anyone,” Mickey said. “He’s always reached out to help anybody in need.
“He’s called me up and said, ‘This person needs help. Can you help them?’
“Even in this last year when he was ailing, he was worried about other people,” Mickey said. “Truett always put customers first, other people first. All the way through this.”