Mobile County Commissioners have approved an agreement allowing Chick-fil-A to test selling food to the jurors, employees and visitors that frequent Government Plaza.
On Monday, the county approved a memorandum of understanding with Chick-fil-A’s downtown location that will allow the iconic poultry purveyor to serve breakfast and lunch items prepared at its Royal Street facility during a temporary trial run sometime during the next month.
No firm dates have been set, but the agreement notes breakfast would be sold from 7-9 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The trial period is scheduled to last for a week, though Chick-fil-A has the option to extend it up to three weeks to better judge the flow of foot traffic in Government Plaza at various times.
Commission President Connie Hudson said Chick-fil-A uses a similar “additional distribution point” model in other areas. At Government Plaza, it would operate near the building’s entrance on Government Street in the area where absentee voting currently takes place.
Per the agreement, Chick-fil-A would provide a sales counter, a register and seating for approximately 100 people. The county will also allow the use of existing sinks and a walk-in refrigerator in the building’s kitchen in order to meet certain public health requirements.
As for the menu, it will include chicken biscuits, yogurt, orange juice and canned drinks at breakfast, along with chicken sandwiches, side salads and market salads at lunch. There was no mention of Chick-fil-A’s signature waffle fries in the memorandum of understanding.
As part of the agreement, the county will receive 10 percent of Chick-fil-A’s pre-tax sales at the Government Plaza location. Hudson said that would serve as a kind of rent payment for use of the space, adding: “We’re not giving anything away. We can’t by law.”
“This is a trial period to see if it works for us and also to see if it’s something they’re interested in pursuing,” Hudson said. “It’s primarily for convenience. We have weeks where several juries are coming in and out as well as our employees. This just provides another option.”
As has Lagniappe reported, the county requested proposals from off-site food service vendors last November, and Hudson says Chick-fil-A was the only respondent. Commissioner Merceria Ludgood voted against issuing the RFP then and also opposed the contract with Chick-fil-A, though both measures passed 2-1, with support from Commissioner Jerry Carl.
Ludgood has raised concerns multiple times about the county getting into the restaurant business and previously noted that multiple food vendors and Starbucks Coffee have all been unsuccessful in Government Plaza over the years. More than anything, though, Ludgood said she doesn’t think the county should be competing with private businesses.
“Over the last several years we’ve been encouraging investment downtown, and I just think it’s counterproductive for us to bring in another entity that could undermine some of the traffic those restaurants get,” Ludgood said. “They’re going to avoid overhead and they’re going to be using our equipment, and that just creates — in my judgment — kind of unfair competition.”
Ludgood said her opposition to the contract had nothing to do with Chick-fil-A CEO’s Dan Cathy’s support of a “biblical definition” of marriage as between a man and woman, nor the company’s support of Christian-based charitable groups accused of harboring “anti-LGBTQ views.”
In the past, the company has drawn criticism for both, and just last week, the San Antonio City Council voted to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in the city’s airport.
Hudson, however, said she hasn’t heard any negative feedback about the organizations Chick-fil-A’s corporate office supports or about a food option in Government Plaza creating a hardship for other downtown restaurants. She said she only sees it as “a positive.”
“This is supply and demand. We put out an RFP and anybody could have responded,” Hudson added. “A lot of the restaurateurs I talked with personally said they’re so busy right now they can’t expand, and I think rising waters here are going to float all ships as far as downtown goes.”
The county once maintained a large kitchen in Government Plaza, but Hudson said much of the equipment has been sold or is inoperable. While Chick-fil-A will utilize some of the space, Hudson said it would take “capital investment” to get the full kitchen operational again.
While the trial with Chick-fil-A is only temporary, Hudson said — if it makes sense for both parties — it could become permanent and possibly lead to additional restaurants providing a similar service for the hundreds of people who visit Government Plaza each week.
“This is a trial that I think could possibly lead to something like a food court,” Hudson said. “Chick-fil-A is not the only company that does this kind of model, and it could potentially open the door for others. Chick-fil-A has also said they’re fine with that as well.”
Asked about the possibility of a food court, Ludgood said she’d be opposed to that as well.
A date for the trial run with Chick-fil-A is expected to be published once the two entities can agree to one. Hudson said she anticipates it will be sometime in early April, but said the county wants to test the setup at a time when multiple jury trials are occurring at Government Plaza.
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