Behind-the-scenes with Dan Cathy: Chick-fil-A's secrets to success

ATLANTA — On a recent tour of the new Chick-Fil-A location in Vine City, WSB consumer adviser Clark Howard found himself in a peculiar place -- on the floor underneath a table. At his side -- Dan Cathy, the man who runs the billion-dollar franchise.

“I'm gonna read you a story,” Cathy explained as he lay underneath the family size table made of reclaimed wood.

The tables, which are in locations across the country, are a part of A Better Way Ministries. Each one tells the story of individuals who overcame addiction.

“So, if you drop your napkin, look underneath these tables and you can read the story,” Cathy said.

During the hourlong backstage tour that followed, it was clear how proud he is of the company built by his father, Truett Cathy.

When Clark sat down with him a few weeks later at the Chick-Fil-A headquarters on Atlanta’s south side, he spoke fondly about the foundation of faith his father provided.

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“There was no division between our life at home and life at the little Dwarf House restaurant where we started off,” Cathy said. “The greatest statement that I would say about my dad is he lived a life of integrity. He was the same dad at home as he was the Sunday school teacher and he was the same dad at the Dwarf house as he was at home and at the church. He was the same person at all places and all circumstances.”

Cathy told Clark that his father never made employees do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. That included working on Sundays.

“My dad grew up in a boarding house and having to wash dirty dishes and he just thought it was so distasteful to have to be doing something on a day that normally would be recreational or with the family,” Cathy said. “It's my belief that our food tastes just a little bit better on Monday when we are closed on Sunday.”

He also credits his father with teaching him the value of hard work. He recalled picking gum from underneath the tables at the Dwarf house as a kid, a task he credits with helping him understand the importance of earning a wage. It's something he believes parents should teach their children from the start.

“The point is that as parents, we need to teach financial responsibility ... we need to correlate work with earnings ... we need to correlate education with opportunity,” Cathy said

When it comes to earning, Cathy knows a thing or two. The privately owned company reported more than $9 billion in revenue for 2017. Cathy told Clark that although their signature chicken sandwich is good, it’s probably not the reason for the company’s success. Instead, he credits the people who run the locations.

“We have an incredible talent pool of restaurant operators that are so responsive. They do care about the community. They do present a tremendous mentor relationship to young teenagers who need real good coaching, even language skills, like how to say 'my pleasure' when otherwise it’s, ‘Yeah, uh huh, no problem,’ and we are able to upgrade,” Cathy said. “So, the secret for us is this entrepreneurial opportunity that is in this incredible platform and population of business people.”

Quincy Springs is one of those business people. He operates the new location in Vine City, an area of Atlanta’s west side that’s been paralyzed by poverty and drugs for decades. When Clark asked him why he took on the challenge, his answer was, “Why not?”

“I thought to myself, this community doesn't get the same services and goods that other communities get, and people here deserve it just as well as anyone else,” Springs said. “So, yes, it may have its challenges, but what community doesn’t? And I wanted to invest to let people in this community know they deserve the same treatment and services as everyone else.”

That’s a philosophy Cathy agrees with, which is why he’s part of a coalition committed to bringing this once thriving community back to life.

“It's just unimaginable. It's just not the Atlanta I know,” Cathy said. “I'm just kinda joining the chorus of voices that say not on our watch are we going to allow something like this to take place.”