Residents receive some VIP treatment
Posted: January 26, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — The moment Melody Popp left the airport in Atlanta, the noise hit her — cheering, clapping and cowbells.
The Winchester resident was met by the sight of employees of Chick-fil-A calling greetings and waving to the 51 winners of the “VIP of my Chick-fil-A” election contest and their guests.
“It was definitely the VIP treatment as soon as we stepped out of the airport,” said Popp, 28, who took her friend Cari Combs of Stephens City on the trip.
As part of the contest, 51 Chick-fil-A restaurants in the Washington metropolitan area flew a grand prize winner and a guest to Atlanta for the day Dec. 4 to visit the company’s corporate headquarters.
The three Winchester locations sent a winner, who were chosen by customers as part of a Facebook promotion telling why they are “raving fans” of the restaurant, said Chuck Guffee, owner of Chick-fil-A locations at Rutherford Crossing and Pleasant Valley Road.
“They were raving fans before, but I think they are even more so now,” he said with a grin.
Popp was the winner for Rutherford Crossing and Dick Crane, 75, of Winchester represented the Pleasant Valley location. Brian Weir, 34, of Stephens City won for the Chick-fil-A in the Apple Blossom Mall.
The winners were announced at an event in early November at Rutherford Crossing in which the contestants and four guests received a free dinner, Guffee said. They also received a “backstage tour” showing the restaurant’s operations.
Chick-fil-A’s welcoming and family-friendly atmosphere were at the heart of the winners’ responses, which were voted on by other customers, Guffee said.
In his entry, Crane, who took his wife Gail on the trip, talked about being in a Bible study that meets at the Pleasant Valley location. The group, which started in 1989, lost its previous location, and Chick-fil-A welcomed it for its weekly meeting, he said.
“I was so impressed with how everyone is so welcoming and of course the food is good, too,” he said. “I just fell in love with Chick-fil-A.”
Popp’s entry stated that the Chick-fil-A in the mall was her first job at age 15. Today, the store locations offer places that she and her husband Kevin can take their three children for events such as the Princess Brunch, Daddy Daughter Date nights and Christmas activities, she said.
Weir, who took his wife Tracy, highlighted the family’s weekly Tuesday outing to the mall location for family night. They have two daughters, Aubrey, 5, and Sophie, 3.
“It is a lot easier to go through a drive-through, especially with small kids, but we go out of our way to come here every Tuesday night,” he said.
The store’s employees go above and beyond the usual service, as evidenced by Aaron Ellison, owner of the mall store, who accompanyied them on the trip to Atlanta, Weir said.
“They are very important customers to me,” Ellison said. “I wanted to treat them like that.”
Once the seven travelers and other contest winners flew from Washington Dulles International Airport to Atlanta, buses took them to Chick-fil-A headquarters. Arriving at the building, they were once again met with cheers, cowbells and music.
During a buffet lunch, the guests heard several speakers. But all of them agreed that the highlight was listening to founder Truett Cathy, 91, who still regularly comes to the office.
“He gave his inspirational talk of how he got started and the standards they live by and work by,” Crane said.
After lunch, the guests were broken into smaller groups and given a tour of the facility, including Cathy’s office, Weir said. They asked him questions and took pictures.
“Standing in his office, he has pictures with former presidents and [investment billionaire] Warren Buffett,” Weir said.
The tour also included a replica of Cathy’s original restaurant, the Dwarf Grill (later renamed Dwarf House) and part of his classic and antique automobile collection, which has one of the Batmobiles featured in the 1992 movie “Batman Returns,” Crane said.
The VIP treatment continued to the buses to the airport, Crane said. When the guests left, employees came out of their offices and lined the balconies above the atrium, waving and cheering them off.
To round out the trip, the buses stopped at the original Dwarf House for dinner before the group headed to the airport to catch a plane home, he said.
“It was a real fantasy atmosphere,” Crane said.
— Contact Laura McFarland firstname.lastname@example.org