Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s controversial comments on gay marriage last year did little to dampen the fast food chain's sales. On the contrary:
The company ended 2012 with $4.6 billion in sales, up 14 percent from $4.1 billion a year earlier, and it opened 96 news stores, four more than 2011.
The company does not have to publicize its finances because it is privately owned, but made those figures available to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Supporters of Cathy’s views against gay marriage and his right to express them hailed the numbers as a victory in light of efforts to boycott the chain.
Advocates of a boycott and business experts said numbers don’t show the full picture. The unseen damage, they said, was to the company’s reputation.
“Short term financial results are one indicator of the health of a brand, “ said Tim Calkins of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“You only see the real impact on branding over time.”
Maybe so, but in the meantime, the company's roasted chicken recipe and waffle fries continue to bring the customers in across the United States.
Meanwhile Shane Windmeyer, executive director for the gay and lesbian student group Campus Pride, said he’s been meeting with Cathy since August.
His goal? To talk about the gay community’s concerns and the company’s future plans. The two have become friends, according to Windmeyer.
Windmeyer said that he’s been shown tax records indicating Chick-fil-A had pulled its support of groups opposing gay marriage as early as 2011.
He said he has circulated that information among gay rights advocacy groups to dispel rumors about the chain and show its willingness to change.
The company became the center of culture wars after Cathy told a religious magazine that he was “guilty as charged” in his opposition to gay marriage.
“We are very much supportive of the family; the biblical definition of the family unit,” he said.
"We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage."
Gay marriage supporters saw it as part of a pattern that included the company’s donations to anti-gay marriage groups. Boycotts were organized.
Politicians in Chicago and Boston threatened to block new stores, though they relented when Chick-fil-A said it would no longer support political groups.
The company’s fans responded with Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, which found millions around the country forming long lines to show support.
The company said the event even produced a one-day sales record. It also dwarfed a “Kiss In” protest by gay marriage supporters that followed.
But the company, as well known for its funny cow-themed ads and for closing on Sundays as for its food, has said little since the controversy erupted.
Chick-fil-A declined to comment beyond providing the sales numbers.