TAMPA, Fla. - Just when it seemed like all the controversy behind Chick-fil-A and its CEO was heading towards divisive protests and angry vitriol, an Ybor City restaurant has decided to lighten things up.
As the chicken chain enjoys record sales during the aftermath of company president Dan Cathy's comments opposing gay marriage, Hamburger Mary's has answered with its own dish. Called the "Hate Free Southern Chicken Sandwich," it's supposed to be an option for those who disagree with Cathy's views.
"Actually, it was just a light-hearted spin on the whole thing," said Melanie Todd, the manager at Hamburger Mary's. "To take some of the seriousness, some of the 'grrr' out of it," Todd said with a smile, swinging her arm like a cat scratches.
The restaurant held a kickoff party for the sandwich Thursday night, complete with cow costumes and balloons. One dollar from the sale of each sandwich is being donated to equality causes nationwide, according to the company's website.
While more protests are scheduled by gay rights activists, including a same sex kissing demonstration called "Kiss more Chiks," Todd said she would rather focus on positives. She said many in the gay community were offended by the message that led to the Chick-fil-A firestorm.
"It seemed very mean-spirited the way it was worded," Todd said, talking about Cathy's comments. "It just seems very mean."
Outside the Chick-fil-A store on S. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, Guyton Thompson stood watching on the sidewalk as the parking lot overflowed with cars trying for an open space or winding their way through the drive-thru. Parents and kids hustled across the hot asphalt to get inside.
Thompson is a veteran demonstrator, having marched in protests in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York over several decades. He views many in the flocks of people heading to Chick-fil-A as being misinformed, or worse.
"The local bigots, extremists and other loose ends are out supporting them right now," Thompson said. "I think in the long run the negative P.R. is going to hurt," he said.
But some people heading into local Chick-fil-A restaurants weren't even aware of the national debate underway about the head of a corporation taking sides on a sensitive social issue.
Judy Genshaft, president of the University of South Florida, darted into the Dale Mabry restaurant for lunch. She had just returned from a trip to Japan and had not seen the stories about the boycotts or the shows of support.
"My salad is 150 calories. That's the reason I'm here," she laughed.
Whether the publicity for Chick-fil-A will impact the company in the long run remains to be seen. Ultimately, protesters like Thompson will keep fighting for his side of the aisle.
"Mr. Cathy has a right to his free speech. We have a right to ours," Thompson said. "It's a matter of everybody expressing their constitutional rights to freedom of expression."
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