Planning travel to the South requires a food itinerary. A timetabled-menu to assure patronage of choice fast-food joints, sit-down restaurants, or even grocers you may want to visit.
For weeks in advance of our recent trip to northern Georgia, we compiled a checklist in order of first place to dine in, all the way down to last, with priority given to travel accessibility, and personal preferences: Chick-fil-A, Zaxby’s, Cracker Barrel, Publix, Gladys and Ron’s Chicken and Waffles.
But within 30 minutes of our landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport our methodical inventory was turned on its bun. Chick-fil-A, Chick-fil-A…. By absolute, supernormal chance we unknowingly sat down in the original Chick-fil-A. The Southern-chicken joint, which goes by its original name, the Hapeville Dwarf House, reminded my girlfriend, Courtney, and me why the fast-food chain topped our list, and why the chain remains a destination on its own for South-bound road trippers.
Before driving north on Interstate 75 from the Atlanta metro area in a rented Nissan Versa, we decided that if we got one more opportunity to visit a location on our list during the long weekend it had to be the Dwarf House, again. Along the ride the immense feeling of experiencing a “miracle” persisted—taking hold long before heartburn took over. We had to ask ourselves, “What were the chances?”
This was every Chick-fil-A lover’s fantasy.
Though most may not see stumbling upon the Dwarf House as a godsend, general manager Kevin Moss says he sees reactions from customers similar to ours—once they learn they had just ordered from the first Chick-fil-A. “[Customers] will run outside and take pictures in front of the Dwarf door. They want you to go outside with them and take picture of them and their families,” Moss said.
The Dwarf House’s original owner and current Chick-fil-A CEO Samuel Truett Cathy unveiled the brand in 1964 in Hapeville, Georgia, after he went looking in 1963 for a method to cook chicken more quickly—the result of the search was a pressure cooker. Undergoing a name change from Dwarf Grill to Dwarf House in 1966, the original building only held four tables and 10 stools, according to Moss. And the restaurant did not offer chicken as a menu item when it opened on May 22, 1946.
Though it still is “fast food,” Chick-fil-A has since turned into a culinary trademark of the South. The sweet, finely-breaded nuggets, waffle fries, and dual-pickle-slice-bearing chicken breast sandwiches are delicious fare that few can resist. If fried chicken were officially declared the food of the South, the Chick-fil-A chicken would be its representative. Whether they are official or not, Chick-fil-A restaurants are designed to represent the Southern delicacy. Drive-through lines spiral around the original building, thronged by those who would gladly vote to place the meat they’re about to buy into an official best-of record book.
Given the lunchtime crush at any given Chick-fil-A, I always envision working-class customers evaluating wait times in the ordering line, conscious of the need to return to work on time. While I was in college in Orlando, the seductiveness of the brand seized my taste buds around the same time I learned that the only line longer than the one for getting on Space Mountain is the noontime line at the Chick-fil-A in the center of campus.
It’s now a long stretch from from the days of walking to and from the dorm: a Chick-fil-A in Paramus, New Jersey is the closest full-service outpost to New York City. While a Chick-Fil-A with a limited menu can be found in New York University's Weinstein Food Court. Accurately planning Chick-fil-A stops on a road trip requires dogged practice. I have learned to locate the Chick-fil-A restaurants that abound as one travels south on Interstate 95 from New York. My passengers are well aware, and have come to expect regular stops along the way.
On our way back to the airport, we stopped one more time to eat the bite-sized fried chicken nuggets and waffle fries while guzzling as much of the sweetest Southern sweet tea our bladders could hold, topping off our meal would not with a dessert, but with the $10 souvenir shirts that, for as long as the cotton holds around our engorged stomachs, stand as evidence of eating at the original Chick-fil-A.