New York Has Serious Concerns With Chick-Fil-A

Why the nation's most popular chicken chain is not a great fit for New York's highway rest stops.

Rest areas along the New York State Thruway are currently undergoing a $450 million redesign. That project involves removing all McDonald's restaurants and adding Chick-fil-A, among other chains, to several of the rest areas that punctuate the 500-mile highway system, which connects New York City and Buffalo by way of Albany. The McDonald's closures were meant to provide "updated restaurant concepts" to these rest areas. However, it's quickly becoming apparent that Chick-fil-A will present obstacles to highway drivers throughout the state.

Chick-fil-A, of course, is famously closed on Sundays, a nod to its founder's religious beliefs. But Sunday isn't just when many folks go to church—it's a notoriously heavy traffic day, with a lot of travelers using Sundays to head back home from weekend trips. When it was announced that Chick-fil-A was being added to rest areas along the Thruway, it seems some New Yorkers erroneously assumed that the restaurants be open on Sundays, despite the chain's longstanding policy. That would just make good sense at a rest stop, right?

Wrong. A resident in Syracuse sent in a pressing question to "Your Stories," a segment on local ABC affiliate News Channel 9, after a new Chick-fil-A opened in the nearby Chittenango rest area.

"Will the new Chick-fil-A on the Thruway be open on Sundays?" the resident asked.

"You might be thinking with the new Chittenango location being on the Thruway, the chain might make an exception for hungry Sunday travelers," wrote the news outlet in a response. "That won't be the case, it will close on Sunday."

Although many of the new Thruway rest stops include other eateries such as Popeyes, Shake Shack, and Burger King, in the case of Chittenango specifically, travelers will only have two choices on Sundays: Starbucks or prepared foods from the on-site convenience store, Applegreen, the parent company of which has been hired to operate the rest areas.

"The Sunday closure is a brand requirement and one that Empire State Thruway Partners had to factor into the tenant plan," a spokesperson from the Thruway Authority told News Channel 9. "Empire State Thruway Partners explored a selection of restaurants and finalized agreements with specific brands to operate at the redeveloped service areas to enhance and improve the travel experience for our customers."

A report about the limited Sunday dining options in Chittenango on The Auburn Citizen called the situation "unique," noting that the other Thruway stops that will soon host Chick-fil-A will have other fast food options available on Sundays. A radio station in the region voiced its discontent in a piece titled "NY Made 1 Major Mistake Putting Chick-fil-A In Thruway Rest Stops."

"What sense does it make to put a restaurant that's closed on Sunday inside establishments that cater to travelers?" the article read in part. "Sunday is the biggest travel day of the week! People are coming back from weekend getaways. They're hungry and need a quick bite on their way home. So they stop at a thruway rest stop, only to find that its anchor food option... isn't even operating!"

Before Sundays got the attention of hungry New Yorkers who don't want convenience store food or Starbucks for lunch, some were already opposed to the installation of Chick-fil-A in rest areas on state-owned property, due to the company's anti-LGBTQ stance. In a letter to the New York State Thruway Authority, a group of New York State lawmakers said that this embrace of Chick-fil-A undercuts advances state lawmakers have made in recent years with regard to marriage equality and non-discrimination protections.

"This move by the Thruway Authority, strikes us, as sending a message to LGBTQ+ individuals and families that it doesn't share the same commitment to their civil rights as New York State," read the letter in part. "We are requesting that you re-examine the list of approved concessions for these rest spots considering Chick-fil-A's action against the LGBTQ+ community."

Despite these concerns, new Chick-fil-A restaurants still landed at various rest stops.

Given the chain's strict Sunday closures and lawmakers' astute observations that some traveling the Thruway may not feel comfortable dining at Chick-fil-A, rest areas like Chittenango, where there aren't many other viable dining options, might suffer as a result; at the very least, there will be lost opportunities for additional revenue. Perhaps travelers will get off the Thruway altogether and look to the skyline for some Golden Arches, establishing McDonald's as road food in New York once again.