LUMBERTON – What do “Star Wars,” the Grateful Dead and Chick-fil-A have in common?
They all have groupies.
On the eve of its grand-opening, the Chick-fil-A at the corner of Khan Drive and Jackson Court in Lumberton was stuffed with happy campers, folks who were hanging out in hopes of winning a year’s worth of coupons to dine at the restaurant.
The chicken lovers weren’t all from nearby.
“We’ve visited more than 92 grand openings over five years,” said Libby Knupp, who drove 390 miles from Bunker Hill, W.Va., to participate in her 93rd.
Knupp was one of 100 people given permission to pitch a tent to be at the head of line when the Chick-fil-A opened for breakfast at 6 this morning. They will each receive 52 coupons for a No. 1 combo meal, enough for a free meal for every week of the year.
Mark Morse, the owner and operator of the Lumberton location, estimated there were more than 200 people in the parking lot Wednesday morning, a number that was cut in half through a raffle.
Morse said the No. 1 combo, called the “hero product” because of its popularity, consists of the Chick-fil-A sandwich, an order of medium waffle fries and a medium beverage. It costs about $6, putting the value of the night spent under the stars at $312 — plus tax.
The chain restaurant, which was established in 1946 in Hapeville, Ga., has more than 1,500 restaurants in 39 states, with the Lumberton location marking the 144th in North Carolina.
Knupp, who arrived in Lumberton on Tuesday and spent the night in her vehicle in the Walmart parking lot, said that she has visited grand openings in District Heights, Md., and Forest Hill, Md., this month. She didn’t want to reveal her next stop so the competition wouldn’t be tipped.
For Kris Calhoun, a Parkton resident, camping out at a restaurant was more about spending time with his 10-year-old son Austin than free food.
“We’ve been talking about this for a while,” he said. “For us, it’s more of a chance to get out and do a father-son thing.”
Knupp, who travels with her husband and son, says she too loves the camaraderie.
“They have games. They give you breakfast, lunch and dinner. They offer an ice-cream sundae social. It’s just fun,” she said. “You just have to stay on the property.”
Famous for its slogan, “We Didn’t Invent the Chicken, Just the Chicken Sandwich,” the chain sells a variety of fried and grilled chicken sandwiches, nuggets and wraps, along with its famous waffle fries and an assortment of desserts and milkshakes. The Robesonian on Wednesday was also the beneficiary of the company’s benevolence. A Chick-fil-A employee surprised the employees by dropping off chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, fruit salad and an assortment of beverages, including the company’s signature lemonade.
The store will be open Mondays through Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and closed on Sundays in honor of the Sabbath. The owner of the company, Dan Kathy, has said the company embraces traditional Christian values, a stance that has made the chain the target at time of critics, including advocates of same-sex marriage.