:Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith A line was backed out the door at the Chick-fil-A in Newton Plaza at lunchtime Wednesday. Customers said the long wait was worth it.
COVINGTON -- Local Chick-fil-A restaurants in Covington and Conyers were jam packed Wednesday as customers rallied in support of the chicken chain amid ongoing criticism regarding an executive's comments about marriage.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared Wednesday national "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" and word got out to local citizens.
At around 11:30 a.m. at the Chick-fil-A in Newton Plaza in Covington, a line was backed out the door and it was difficult to move inside the restaurant. The drive-thru was slammed as well.
Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press last month that the Atlanta-based company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." That unleashed a torrent of criticism from gay rights groups and others, who have called for boycotts and efforts to block the chain from opening new stores.
Joyce and Lawson Cox of Covington were at the Covington location at lunchtime because "As Christians, we believe in what he does," said Joyce Lawson, referring to Cathy. "I think it's great to get out and support what we think."
Judi Sistrunk of Social Circle was there with friends from Berean Baptist Church. "It's a private company and nobody can tell a private company what they can and can't do with their business," she said.
Jane Sheffield of Covington said to her, "It's just a matter of free speech more than anything."
Jackie Rainwater of Social Circle said he agrees with Cathy's support of the biblical definition of marriage. "It really is a polarizing issue but I think the Christian faith needs to be heard," he said.
Caleb Fields of Covington said while he was there to support Chick-fil-A's Christian-based business model, he's a loyal customer for a more basic reason. "They've got great food," he said.
At the Conyers restaurant on Ga. Highway 138, traffic was backed up in the turning lane leading into the restaurant as far as four red lights back, and local police were called in to direct traffic. The traffic jam began as soon as the restaurant opened, according to LA Fitness manager Angela Beard, whose business is located adjacent to the restaurant.
"It looked like somebody was going to a funeral -- a big celebrity funeral," Beard said, adding that Chick-fil-A customers were parking in the fitness center's parking lot.
Major Mike Waters with the Conyers Police Department said two units from the CPD performed some traffic control for a brief period of time Wednesday afternoon to help alleviate a bottleneck that had formed on Ga. 138. He said the configuration of the Chick-fil-A parking lot helped to keep traffic problems to a minimum.
"We're fortunate that there are three or four ways to get in that place," he said, noting that cars can enter and exit through the LA Fitness parking lot next door or on Northlake Drive on the other side of the restaurant.
Waters said he drove by the restaurant a couple of times just to ensure that no problems arose due to the crowd.
"This was a very, very happy crowd," he said. "It seemed that they were enjoying the size of their crowd. ... Everybody was laughing and smiling and having a good time."
Managers at both the Covington and Conyers Chick-fil-As declined to comment for this story.
"Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day was not created by Chick-fil-A," Steve Robinson, executive vice president of marketing, said in a prepared statement. "We appreciate all of our customers and are glad to serve them at any time. Our goal is simple: to provide great food, genuine hospitality and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A."
Opponents of the company's stance are planning a "Kiss Mor Chicks" event for Friday, when they are encouraging people of the same sex to show up at Chick-fil-A stores around the country and kiss each other.
Editor Alice Queen and the Associated Press contributed to this story.