Chick-fil-A plans UK return after LGBTQ+ backlash ended first attempt

A sign at a Chick-fil-A store reading "do not enter"

Controversial US fast-food chain Chick-fil-A is planning a second attempt to launch in the UK, four years after closing its first restaurant following a backlash by LGBTQ+ rights campaigners.

The Atlanta-based chain, whose founders have notoriously anti-LGBTQ+ views, is reportedly set to launch a new UK outlet in early 2025 and hopes to expand to five sites within two years.

The project could cost the company around $100 million (£80.5 million) within the next decade, as part of the new attempt to capitalise on the UK’s customer base.

It first tried to establish a branch in Reading, in Berkshire, in 2019, but was forced to announce – just eight days later – that it would end its lease after six months following criticism from LGBTQ+ activists.

The chain’s founders, the Cathy family, have long been the subject of immense criticism over their donations to anti-LGBTQ+ groups, including Exodus International, which promoted so-called conversion therapy before its closure in 2013.

In 2021, Chick-fil-A chief executive, Dan Cathy, reportedly donated a huge amount of his $8 billion (£6.4 billion) net worth to groups such as the National Christian Charitable Foundation, which funds organisations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, as well as bankrolling legal cases aimed at stripping queer people of their rights.

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When asked about his conservative Christian views, Cathy admitted he was “guilty as charged”, adding that he believes in the “biblical definition of the family unit”.

Independent food-sector analyst, Peter Backman, told the Financial Times (FT) that the UK is likely to be less open to engaging with the brand due to its historical evangelical Christian stance.

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“Successful restaurants, being very personal businesses, try to align their culture as much as possible with that of the customers they serve,” he said, adding that, when so few Britons identify as Christian, this would be “a challenge”, given Chick-fil-A’s “very strong, religious ethos”.

According to polling data from YouGov, 39 per cent of Britons do not believe in any sort of God or spiritual power compared with 28 per cent who do. Forty-six per cent of Britons do not believe the UK is a Christian country, while 34 per cent believe it is.

Additionally, as of June 2023, 77 per cent of Britons think that same-sex relationships are just as valid as heterosexual relationships.

A source close to the company told the FT that the chain’s religious policies, including closure on Sundays for religious reasons, would apply in the UK.

The company is hoping to move past the incident in 2019 and work to “positively influence the places we call home”, said Joanna Symonds, Chick-fil-A’s head of UK operations.

“This will be the same for our stores in the UK,” she added.

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