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Almost 150 flock to Chik-fil-A to line up for free meals for one year

By Staff | May 14, 2009

The opening of a new Chik-fil-A is like a beacon to some people. It compels them to drive hundreds of miles, endure extreme weather conditions and sleep on concrete in hopes of becoming one of the “First 100” to receive one year’s worth of free food.
The new Chik-fil-A restaurant on Pine Island Road, opening today at 6 a.m., will complete a journey for the lucky 100 folks who have been waiting 24 hours through rain, heat and humidity.
Since roughly 140 showed in hopes of winning the free food, the restaurant held a raffle Wednesday.
Patrick Bellaire was number 69. He traveled from Seminole, Fla., near St. Petersburg, to attend the opening.
This is the 16th grand opening for Bellaire, who has been to all corners of Florida, and points in Georgia, searching out the free chicken.
“It’s the free food, but it’s also everything else,” he said. “I have a lot of friends here and we help each other out … it’s about the community, people getting together and enjoying being here.”
Started almost by accident in 2002 at a Chick-fil-A in Arizona, the First 100, as it has come to be known, has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon.
Restaurant officials quickly realized they needed to guide the growing anomaly before it got out of hand.
“It was real loose and it grew very fast,” said Gus Mir, a Chick-fil-A representative. “We knew we wanted to give our fans something … and the word just simply spread.”
Though temperatures reached the 90s and thunderheads threatened the chicken groupies waiting in the parking lot, they had little else to worry about.
Chik-fil-A treated them to three meals, unlimited drinks, live entertainment, games and a cooling station that offered respite from the heat.
“They’re happy and excited to be a part of this,” said operator Michael Burgess. “This has really taken on a mind of its own. It comes from the way we treat people, the connection we have with them.”
Not all the chicken fanatics were from far flung places. Lamar and Debbie Davis, of North Fort Myers, decided they wanted to try being one of the First 100 after watching people line up at an opening in Estero.
Lamar ended up being number 1, and Debbie number 30. Coincidently, they have been married 30 years.
“I thought, ‘I’ve waited in line, but never for a chicken sandwich,'” Debbie said. “We’ll be able to have a night out — after we have the free coupons, and not have to pick a place for dinner.”