With almost-weekly outings to Chick-fil-A, you’d think I’d know everything possible about my favorite little eatery (which also happens to be the 2011 & 2012 Choice Winner for “Best Kid Friendly Restaurant”).  My love for their original chicken sandwich, sweet tea and waffle fries is one of my sacred cows. But little did I know there was so much more than meets the eye (and my taste buds) with Chick-fil-A!

Last month, Rachel and I were invited – along with a group of mom bloggers from around the country (see list below) – to visit Chick-fil-A’s headquarters in Atlanta where we were given a tour of the very first CFA restaurant, an opportunity to meet CFA’s “First Family”,  and a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what makes this quick-service business so beloved among moms and kids, alike! We’re thrilled to share our experiences with you, and hope to make you all bigger fans of CFA!

Our tour began with a fun ride in large cow van! We then arrived for breakfast at the original Chick-fil-A in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville. But this was not your typical CFA. The “Dwarf House” was opened in 1946 by Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, and it resembles more a retro diner than a quick service restaurant. Over the years it’s evolved to offer the same kind of items you’d find at your neighborhood CFA – but here at the Dwarf House you can still order your typical diner fare table-side with a menu and waiter.

CEO Dan Cathy, son of Truett Cathy, greeted us at the Dwarf House and personally served us all breakfast! Not only that – but in keeping with CFA’s strong Christian roots – he also started the meal with a lovely morning devotion – which was then followed by one of the most sinful dishes I ever had – a Hot Brown (see pic below). This melt-in-your-mouth savory concoction consists of chopped Chick-fil-A chicken, gravy, cheese, toast and bacon. Let’s just say this dish puts many home-cooked southern specialties to shame!

After breakfast (and after a special peek through the miniature door at the Dwarf House with Dan Cathy ), we were then whisked away for the official tour of the CFA headquarters and museum. Dan Cathy and his son James led the tour – including sneak peaks of Dan’s and Truett’s spacial offices – and a visit with Dan’s brother, Bubba, who is also in the CFA business. Afterwards we had a fun session in the CFA test kitchen where we divided into teams to test how quickly we could make CFA’s world-famous lemonade from scratch (see recipe below). We then dined again – this time at the CFA “cafeteria” – where the food is always free for CFA employees and their guests (what a perk!) – and is by no means “cafeteria food” by any sense of the word.

Our next stop on the tour was a building that looked like a gigantic airplane hangar, but inside we discovered a life-size free-standing Chick-fil-A restaurant. This is where they put future franchisees into training. It was awesome to watch, and we were all asked to order an ice cream cone at the counter for added practice for the franchisees. It was also here (inside this hangar) that we met Trudy Cathy, sister to founder Truett, who talked to us about Chick-fil-A’s WinShape Foundation – a foundation, scholarship and camp program (more on this to come on TMoM!)

The final stop on our tour was a presentation by the Chick-fil-A marketing and social media teams. Here is where we learned a bit more about Chick-fil-A’s history, it’s impressive success story, and the secrets behind its popular Eat Mor Chikin®” Cow campaign.

Did you know that…

– Since the first Chick-fil-A® restaurant opened in 1967, the company has posted 44 consecutive annual sales increases.

– Chick-fil-A remains the second-largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the country and one of the nation’s largest privately held restaurant chains.

– Since the chain’s “Eat Mor Chikin®” Cow campaign began in 1995, chain-wide sales have increased six-fold.

– Chick-fil-A can fit into almost any healthy diet through moderation and balanced menu choices. The Chick-fil-A menu offers 10 menu items with 10 or fewer grams of fat. Chick-fil-A cooks in 100 percent refined peanut oil which is naturally trans-fat and cholesterol free. In fact, the entire menu is free of trans fat.

– In 2012, Chick-fil-A will award $1.65 million in scholarships to restaurant team members.

– On average, fewer than 5 percent of Chick-fil-A Operators leave the chain in any given year, with most remaining with the company for more than 20 years.

 – The cows have their own Facebook page with more than 500,000 fans!

To sum up with one very cliched phrase: Holy Cow! This was an incredible experience. I have to admit that when we were first invited to attend this tour, Rachel and I were perplexed as to why we were selected – and why CFA would go to this level to showcase their business to mom bloggers . But by the end of day it was obvious.

Chick-fil-A values families. CFA’s daily operations are run and managed by members of its own family. The Cathy family is now seeing members of its third generation enter into CFA business. Families are the backbone of their business, which is also evidenced in their support of healthy kids meals, their careful selection of kids’ meal prizes that bring the whole family together with fun, as well as interactive family nights, and special date nights for Mother/Son, Mother/Daughter, Father/Son and Father/Daughter. Rachel recently attended the Mother/Son Date Night at the Thruway CFA in Winston-Salem, and said it was a very special treat for her and her son.  She especially enjoyed all the conversation starters on the table, the live music, and the chance for her to spend time with her son with no distractions.

Like Disney, this business left me hard-pressed to find a flaw. Oh wait…they don’t operate on Sundays! But of course, they have good reason: Founder Truett Cathy believes that by giving employees Sunday off as a day for family, worship, fellowship or rest, the company attracts quality people. And people, Cathy says, are the cornerstone of all that Chick-fil-A does as a chain (as quoted from their web site).

And before I close, please take a moment to check out the amazing web sites of these fellow mom bloggers who toured Chick-fil-A with us, as well as CFA’s famous lemonade recipe below. Then be sure to add your comments as to why you love CFA as much as we do!

Mommy Bloggers:

Macaroni Kid
Mashup Mom
5 Minutes for Mom
Muscogee Moms
The Suburban Mom
Moms of Faith
Energizer Bunnies’ Mommy Reports
Carolina Mama
Stockpiling Moms
Richmond Mom

Chick-fil-A’s Secret Lemonade Recipe:
8 hand-squeezed lemons
1 cup sugar
40 ounces of water
Combine all, stir, serve over ice, and enjoy!