Wednesday's mid-90-degree weather did not intimidate more than 70 Dallas-area residents who willfully camped out in Chick-fil-A's parking lot for 24 hours. Each who stayed an entire day received 52 free meals from Chick-fil-A.
Surprisingly, many said their real motivation isn't the freebies.
"It's not about the free food as much as it's about hangin'," says Kimberly Williams, who has camped out at Chick-fil-A five times. "We always find new family members."
Williams sat in the shade chatting with David Matheny, a man she had never met until Wednesday. Matheny, like plenty of others, had never "lived" outside of a chicken restaurant overnight before.
Each will be the first people inside the door of D-FW's 30th Chick-fil-A, located near Belt Line Road and the Dallas North Tollway in the Far North Dallas/Addison area. The restaurant opens at 6 a.m. Thursday, June 9.
Matheny's only surprise was a lack of people. Up to 100 adults are eligible to camp out for free Chick-fil-A, as determined by the chicken restaurant's rules. If more than 100 people showed up when the process began at 6 a.m. Wednesday, Chick-fil-A would have hosted a random drawing to determine who would stay.
Seeing 70 people was unusual -- even to Don Ford, who's participating for the twelfth time.
In Ford's experience, as many as 250 have showed up for Chick-fil-A's "first 100" before. A new rule limited participation to people who live within a 25-mile radius of this new Chick-fil-A. The rule means serial Chick-fil-A groupies can't drive from hours away to collect their free meals.
Meet a serious Chick-fil-A fan: He's camped out 12 times
It was 108 degrees the first time Ford camped at a Chick-fil-A grand opening. Despite no tent and sunburnt legs, he enjoyed the experience so much he decided to do it again. (And again.)
"Once you've done it, you kind of get hooked," Ford said. "And it gets easier. You know what you're going to need and what to expect." His preparation checklist includes a tent, air mattress, fan, power cords and more. For Ford, it's all about the relaxation and the experience.
In fact, he's "give[n] so many meals away it's not even funny," he said.
Chick-fil-A makes the experience fun, too: The company hosts a 24-hour party complete with three meals, group games and a DJ at night.
The first-timers might be hooked, too
First-time participant Erik Welch said unlike Black Friday, campers here interact much more.
He stumbled upon the grand opening party while looking online. "When I saw this [Chick-fil-A] was so close, I decided to try it," Welch said. He might even do it again. Courtney Griffith is not so convinced.
"It's my one day off," she said. She likes camping, however, and said she would join Welch at another Chick-fil-A grand opening in a few weeks. (But "next time, I'll sneak some whiskey in," she said, only partly joking.)
Another first-time participant, Kimberly Johnson, said halfway through the 24-hour ordeal that she didn't find the experience challenging at all.
"I'm surprised at how friendly and outgoing other people here are," she says. "I knew the staff was friendly, but I didn't know how many games there would be," Johnson said.
"A lot of people have seen each other before at these events. They'll say to each other, 'I haven't seen you since the last Chick-fil-A opening!'"
Johnson, who spent a year in the Army, found this type of camping much simpler than the rustic, no-phone experiences in her past. As she transitions between jobs, she thinks the free meals will be useful.
"Any way to save money is nice," she said.
"It's a nice way to interact with the community."
The new Chick-fil-A is located in the 15200 block of Montfort Drive in Dallas. It opens at 6 a.m. Thursday, June 9.
By S. M. CHAVEY, GuideLive intern