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The Gods of Retail: Chick-fil-A

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And on the seventh day, they had waffle fries.

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And on the seventh day, the Lord proclaimed "No greasy, delicious chicken shall be served to hungry masses wandering malls."

Well, maybe that's not entirely accurate.

But for Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, religious devotion trumps profit. Since the first day it opened, Chick-fil-A stores (whether franchised or company owned) are all closed on Sunday.

"Sunday was our way of honoring God and directing our attention to things more important than our business," wrote Cathy.

According to the company's mission statement, the purpose of Chick-fil-A is to "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."

And what better way is there to glorify the Almighty than by chowing down on a Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich and a side of waffle fries? De-licious!

With $2.6 billion in revenue for 2007 -- a 16% increase from 2006 -- it appears that Chick-fil-A customers are faithful believers in the power of tasty poultry.

Unsurprisingly, religious adherence has been both a blessing and curse. On the upside, Cathy, who has taught Sunday school for over 5 decades, insists that the company gives back to the communities it serves. Students across the country are often awarded scholarships, and Chick-fil-A sponsors various sporting events, including the Peach Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Classic for high-school basketball, and is a major supporter of the SEC, the ACC, and the Big 12.

But Chick-fil-A's religiosity does not come without a steamy side of controversy. Cathy is also a major contributor to Focus on the Family, an Evangelical nonprofit whose hard-right views have landed Chick-fil-A smack in the center of ye olde culture wars.

For many, the relationship is anything but wholesome.

"When a friend goes into a store and along with their meal is handed a video DVD by James Dobson…which no less purports to tell a woman 'how to be a good wife,' they have gone too far," writes Steven Lesser in OpEd News.

In 2002, the company was sued for religious discrimination by Aziz Latif, a Muslim employee on track to become a store manager. Latif claimed that all trainees were asked to say a prayer "to Jesus Christ" during one of the sessions. Latif refused.

Latif's lawyer, Ajay Choudhary, said Latif "didn't say anything. There was an awkward silence. Then eventually the next person started praying to Jesus Christ. The next day he was fired."

At the time, Chick-fil-A spokesman Don Perry insisted that Latif's refusal to pray had no bearing in his termination, and that the company regarded the suit as "frivolous." It was eventually settled out of court; Latif received an undisclosed sum.

Sometimes Judgment Day is best carried out behind closed doors.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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