Forest Hill's new Chick-fil-A restaurant was the site of a pilgrimage of sorts, as nearly 200 people filled the parking lot with tents, camping gear, games and fellowship Wednesday morning.
The day before a Chick-fil-A opening is now known as an "event" for those who drive hundreds of miles, in the early hours of the morning, to spend time with other fellow Chick-fil-A celebrants.
The restaurant on Route 924 did not formally open until Thursday morning, but the building was already brightly lit and bustling Wednesday, filled with staff members, a table set up to welcome visitors and drinks available for everyone.
Spokeswoman Lindsay Ables said 188 people were lined up by 6 a.m., when the restaurant gave out a one-year supply of free meals to the first 100 hopefuls, aged 18 and older.
"We have a lot of raving fans," Ables said, explaining visitors are fed breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as entertained all day. The schedule included an ice cream party, games and musical entertainment later in the day.
Many campers said the Chick-fil-A "events" created a makeshift community for them, and they eagerly pointed out those who had been to 40, 60 or even 90 such openings.
A big part of that atmosphere seemed to be the restaurant's religious values.
Chick-fil-A is known for being closed on Sundays and its president, Dan Cathy, recently sparked controversy for vocally opposing same-sex marriage.
Michael Swartz, of Norwood, Pa., said it's a site for "Christian friendship" and he thinks a lot of people who come to the openings feel the same way.
"People who come to Chick-fil-A have more family values than [at] other restaurants and I think they are more loyal to Chick-fil-A because of Chick-fil-A's Christian background," Swartz said, adding he has lost count of how many events he has attended.