St. Pete Chick-fil-A ribbon cutting coincides with somber day for fast food company

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Chick-Fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy passed away early Monday morning at age 93.

Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant in a mall in Atlanta in 1967. By 2013, the restaurant chain known for its Eat Mor Chikin cows surpassed $5 billion in system-wide sales.

Over the past two years though, the company has become known for another issue – its philanthropy toward anti-same-sex marriage organizations. The conservative stance by Cathy and other executives within the privately held company led to nationwide protests and “kiss-ins.”

On the same day Cathy passed away, the Chick-fil-A on Fourth Street North celebrated its re-opening with a red Chick-fil-A flag flying at half staff in honor of the chains founder.

The St. Petersburg franchise first opened in 1999. They closed temporarily earlier this year to renovate the building and re-opened again in July.

The site was recognized as a “Good ‘Burger” this year for its commitment to serving the community.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman lauded the business for its service to his city during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but wouldn’t weigh in on controversy surrounding the company’s anti-gay merits.

“People know where I stand on a number of issues including that one. For the purposes of this restaurant, politics aren’t involved,” Kriseman said.

And he’s not alone. St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell who is openly gay sat down for an interview with a giant Chick-fil-A sweet tea acknowledging that he knows he’s not supposed to eat there, but the tea is something of an addiction.

Some reports of Cathy’s death have focused on the same-sex marriage issue, but people within the company are focusing on Cathy’s business ethics with employees. Chick-fil-A’s website boasts Cathy’s implementation of a scholarship program for hourly employees, the intent to hire teens so they may experience a first job and his commitment to family by closing on Sundays.

“One of the things I preach to my staff is the importance of family, making sure that they take care of their family obligations so that when they come to work they can give me 110% and for these folks, for this business, that means giving their employees Sundays off,” Kriseman said.

The owner of the Fourth Street Chick-fil-A, David Neely, considered Cathy a personal friend and mentor.

“Truett would want to be remembered very simply. He had a life verse, proverbs 22:1 and Truett’s verse is a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,” Neely said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Chick-fil-A has already released information about services for Cathy. Public viewings are scheduled for Tuesday from 4-7 at First Baptist Church Jonesboro in Atlanta and from noon to 1:30 on Wednesday. A public funeral service will be at the same church on Wednesday at 2 p.m. followed by a private burial.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.