Even as it struggles to escape controversy in the United States over its overtly anti-gay past, fast food chain Chick-fil-A has begun a quiet expansion northward into Ontario, Canada, opening two stores in Toronto within months of one another.
The first location opened last September, with no small amount of popular hype. Some customers even camped out overnight to get their first taste of Canadian Chick-fil-A. Yet the occasion was also marked with protests and backlash from local LGBTQ rights group The 519, which objected to the franchise’s tendency to financially support hate groups, including practitioners of conversion therapy.
This week, Chick-fil-A opened a second franchise in the food court of Toronto’s Yorkdale Mall, known for upscale shops like Holt Renfrew, Nordstrom, and Harry Rosen.
Because the new location is not Canada’s first Chick-fil-A, the response is more muted, and protesters have not made an appearance. It’s not clear whether opponents of Chick-fil-A have lost interest in protesting, or if there simply isn’t the same opportunity when mall security reserves the right to boot protesters from the premises.
But it certainly can’t hurt that Chick-fil-A has been trying to walk back its anti-gay image in recent months. In November, the company announced changes to its charitable giving model that ends financial support to anti-LGBTQ organizations… at least for now.
Whether that’s enough to win support from Toronto shoppers remains to be seen, says Avni Shah, professor of marketing at the University of Toronto:
There are still always going to be consumers who are unaware of the brand, and that’s certainly great for Chick-fil-A. There’s not a lot of competition here for fried chicken. But, even considering they’re rolling back donations, a lot of people think they’re obviously just doing this as a marketing ploy… Toronto is one of the top cities in the world for being LGBTQ-friendly. Even if you don’t identify that way, there’s just an inclusive sense and awareness in the population. Okay, you’re no longer doing something against the community, but what are you doing for this community?
Soofia Mahmood, spokesperson for The 519, is encouraged by Chick-fil-A’s recent announcements, but says it’s important to continue to hold the franchise accountable for its actions:
Chick-fil-A’s most recent revelation suggests that the pressure of protests and boycotts are having an effect. We need to continue our activism to ensure that changes in their philanthropic practices are followed by changes to their employment practices and an increased effort to demonstrate their commitment to LGBTQ2S human rights. Anything less is unacceptable.
The long lines remain, though, and the company seems poised — at least in the short term — to make big bucks off curious shoppers wanting a taste of the controversial company’s wares.
Only time will tell whether the franchise, which intends to open at least 10-15 more locations across the Greater Toronto Area, can sustain the hype… and whether it can convince Canadians of its new, less hateful approach to LGBTQ rights.
(Image via Shutterstock)