By Ally Hamzey
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
Mid-Michiganders still await their first taste of the Southern-based fast-food restaurant chain, Chick-fil-A, on their home front. The company’s plans to open a location on Grand River Avenue in front of Meijer in Okemos were confirmed in November and residents today are anticipating further information on the opening of the store.
Meridian Township Director of Community Planning and Development Mark Kieselbach confirms that the special use permits necessary for the addition of the restaurant have been approved by the Planning Commission of Meridian Township.
“As soon as they announced they were coming to the township, we had a lot of interest. A lot of people follow them, [have tried] Chick-fil-A in other states and like them,” Kieselbach said. “It is nice to see a national company pick a site here in the township.”
Kieselbach said Chick-fil-A “took quite a while working with Meijer” because the approved lot for the location is directly in front of the Meijer grocery store on Grand River Avenue in Okemos. However, the delays for the process didn’t stop there.
“[Chick-fil-A] has had their approval from the Planning Commission for about a month and a half and they still have not applied for the site plan portion,” Kieselbach said. “Part of that [reasoning] is the engineer they’re working through is fine-tuning the site plan before he submits it.”
Kieselbach said that Chick-fil-A is accountable for the delay in the process of the new location in front of the Okemos Meijer, not Meridian Township. Kielselbach also said that the timing of thethat the timing of the development “depends on how fast they can get their people to turn it around and submit [the plan] to us.”
Brenda Morrows, Midwest Regional Communications Manager of Chick-fil-A, asked to delay interviews about the Okemos Chick-fil-A until the company has confirmation on their “real estate strategy and timing.” Morrows said the company looks forward to coming to Michigan.
Associate Professor of Hospitality Business Entrepreneurship in Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business, Jeffery Elsworth, analyzes the potential reasonings for delays in the process of opening a new restaurant location such as Chick-fil-A.
“Sometimes [the Planning Commission] doesn’t have meetings on a regular basis, sometimes they take their time doing something, sometimes one person has an objection that will hold up the whole process,” Elsworth said. “Sometimes there are contingent agreements and disagreements that may seem petty.”
Elsworth believes the restaurant “knows they want to be here, but they may not be in the right situation for it be ready [to open].” The associate professor has a strong stance on his prediction of the location’s success.
“They are a big player in the terms of the fast-food restaurant industry and they are perceived as healthy,” Elsworth said. “They have a fan base. If you were to poll 1,000 people in Mid-Michigan, I would be surprised if you wouldn’t find at least a 60 percent positive relationship in terms loving to see a Chick-fil-A here.”
Despite the massive support of the restaurant among Michigan residents, Elsworth believes the perfectly fitting demographic of this Chick-fil-A will also attribute to a successful restaurant.
“They’re very popular in college towns and in blue collar type of towns. This area, while still professional, is still very much a factory, General Motors, state workers town. It’s the right demographic for them,” Elsworth said.
A.J. Bowers, MSU freshman student from Okemos, has not eaten at the fast-food restaurant before because he has never been in close enough proximity to give the store a try. However, he is anticipating the arrival of the restaurant eagerly.
“I have heard such raving reviews about Chick-fil-A that I am excited to go give it a try,” Bowers said. “It is going to be in such close proximity to me that I will actually be able to try it now.”
Bowers is aware of the stance the company openly takes against homosexuality, but he still plans on giving the restaurant a try, despite his disagreement with the viewpoint.
“Those prejudices just should not exist in a modern company,” Bowers said. “I don’t think it will stop me from eating there, but the thoughts of me supporting their beliefs will be in the back of my mind while eating.”
The Okemos resident is confident the new Chick-fil-A location will be a hit due to the top-notch location and from his experience of hearing “high customer satisfication” reviews.
“The Grand River Avenue location is a great location in front of Meijer. You go shopping, you go eat and then you’re on the go,” Bowers said. “It’s something different. It’s not a McDonald’s, it’s not a Taco Bell, it’s not a Burger King. It’s something else to try.”
The lot approved for the Meridian Township Chick-fil-A is in a “100 year old flood plain”, which requires the approval of a special use permit, as well as the planned drive-thru requires. A special use permit authorizes land uses that are permitted by the city’s ordinances.