Chick-fil-A to try again in UK four years after LGBT backlash

Customers at Chick-Fil-A
Customers at Chick-Fil-A

An American fast food chain met with protests from the gay community last time it opened in the UK is planning to have another go.

Chick-Fil-A aims to open five restaurants in the UK.

The sites have not yet been chosen, but the first will open in early 2025.

Its previous foray into the UK market in 2019 faced a boycott over its founders' support for Christian groups opposed to same-sex marriage.

The firm is still run by the Cathy family which founded it, but has made a policy change in recent years.

It appointed its first head of diversity in 2020 and has changed its approach to charitable giving, focusing on education and hunger alleviation.

However, the family's Christian values mean restaurants do not open on Sundays, a policy that will also apply in the UK.

"From our earliest days, we've worked to positively influence the places we call home and this will be the same for our stores in the UK," said Joanna Symonds, Chick-Fil-A's head of UK operations.

"We encourage our operators to partner with organisations which support and positively impact their local communities, delivering great food and wider benefits to those around them," she added.

Divided decade

Chick-Fil-A said it would invest over $100m over the next 10 years in the UK. Most of the sites would be run and owned as franchises, and would create between 80 and 120 jobs per branch, it said.

The Atlanta-based firm, famous for its chicken sandwiches, already has 2,800 outlets in the US, Puerto Rico and Canada, and plans to open further sites in Europe and Asia.

In 2019 it opened a temporary pop-up store in Reading's The Oracle shopping centre, at a time when the chicken chain was already dividing opinion in its home market.

Chick-fil-A Reading restaurant
The restaurant in Reading's Oracle shopping centre did not have its lease extended

The firm was founded in 1946 by Samuel Truett Cathy and has been managed by the family ever since.

In 2012 its then chief executive Dan Cathy provoked controversy by criticising the idea of gay marriage. While the LGBT community spoke out against his comments, many customers across the south of the US, where most of its restaurants are located, turned out in support.

Gay rights activists also objected to the Cathy family's financial support for Christian organisations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army.

At the time its Reading store was facing protests Chick-Fil-A said it "never donated with the purpose of supporting a social or political agenda" and was represented by a diverse workforce including "black, white; gay, straight; Christian, non-Christian" staff.

The Salvation Army said it opposed "any discrimination, marginalisation or persecution of any person".

In announcing the new UK investment, the chain highlighted its current charitable work, which include a $25,000 one-off donation to a local non-profit organisation when a Chick-fil-A restaurant is opened, and donations of surplus food to local shelters, soup kitchens and food charities. Those policies would apply to its UK branches too, it said.