They came as early as 5 a.m., setting up tents, chairs and even video-game systems. When Chick-fil-A in Brookfield welcomed guests Wednesday, the sun hadn't even risen.
More than 30 people arrived at the Federal Road restaurant, Connecticut's first, by 6 a.m. There, they registered to become part of the "First 100," a regular Chick-fil-A opening promotion where the first 100 people through the door receive free meals for an entire year (52 meals pre-loaded onto a digital gift card.) Customers registered and received wristbands to be part of the line, but they're required to stay on site until the official opening of the restaurant at 6:30 a.m. Thursday.
The First 100 promotion is a tradition at every new Chick-fil-A opening; the restaurant chain provides meals, drinks and bathrooms for the crowd during the 24-hour period, along with security and entertainment. Representatives from the chain said they expected the "first 100" line to pick up Wednesday evening, after people arrive home from work and school.
On Wednesday afternoon, one group of friends set up a television set with an Xbox gaming system, and took turns playing "Grand Theft Auto" while they waited. They were able to plug their electronics into an outdoor outlet by the drive-through, but they had brought backup power stations. "I took today and tomorrow off from work," said Dave Miller of Brookfield.
"We've got Netflix for tonight," said Steve Rivera of Carmel, N.Y., who'd joined the group in the parking lot Wednesday morning.
Friends Jenn Kolakoski of Wolcott and Trisha Strumski of Waterbury reclined in beach chairs with Kindle e-readers in the parking lot. They'd set up a tent with an air mattress for their overnight stay, and also brought a game of ladderball and playing cards to entertain themselves.
Kolakoski grew up in Florida on Chick-fil-A, she said. "I was all excited when they were finally bringing one to Connecticut. I could only get it when I went down to visit my family, or, when they came to visit, they'd bring [the food] on the plane."
"She dragged me along today," Strumski said with a laugh.
Kolakoski says she has family who's worked for the company. "They're just great to their employees," she said. "They always have Sundays off [a Chick-fil-A company policy.] Nobody's stuck working a full weekend. Everyone gets that family day."
Franchisee Devon Scanlon, a native of Brookfield, has worked in the hospitality industry for years. She first experienced Chick-fil-A as a college student in North Carolina, and says she's thrilled to bring the brand to Connecticut. "It's been unreal," she said of her experience. Her franchise will employ 82 people at that location, she said.
Chick-fil-A's religious beliefs have been the focus of controversy in recent years; in 2012, president and CEO Dan Cathy said publicly that the company "was supportive of the family - the biblical definition of the family unit." The restaurant chain was also criticized for its foundation's donations to anti-gay marriage groups. In response to the outcry, the company stated, "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."
Scanlon said she'd encountered a little opposition to the restaurant on her Facebook page. "I invited them all to have coffee with me, anyone who had any questions or wanted to know more about what I stand for," she said. "To be honest, we love everyone. That’s absolutely the approach...I welcome everyone with honor, dignity and respect, no matter what their beliefs are."
Mark Checkosky of Brookfield, waiting in line with a group of friends, said he'd also heard from Facebook friends who expressed disbelief that he was supporting the restaurant. "Just because one guy has an opinion doesn't mean the rest of the staff at every Chick-fil-A has the same," he said. "The point is, we're out here having a good time. The staff has been treating us very nicely."
On Friday, officials in Brookfield said they hadn't encountered any opposition to Chick-fil-A's presence in town. "I think most people are excited about it," said assistant zoning enforcement officer Francis Lollie.
First Selectman William N. Tinsley said he's happy to welcome home hometown native Scanlon. He said Federal Road's "highly commercialized" nature, as a regional shopping destination, bodes well for the restaurant's success. "They have done a very beautiful job with the property here," he said.
Three other Chick-fil-A locations are planned for Connecticut. The next to open is Wallingford, at 1098 N. Colony Road, on Nov. 6. Chick-fil-A is also projected to open at the Danbury Fair Mall that same day, and another is scheduled to open in Enfield during the first quarter of 2015.
The Brookfield location opens officially at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, at 156 Federal Road. 203-775-7976, chick-fil-a.com.