City approves 90-day trial for Chick-fil-A to conduct market testing

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Batesville aldermen have waived the standard 90 day waiting period required for temporary vendors after hearing a request by Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar to allow Chick-fil-A to conduct a test of the local market to gauge the feasibility of building a restaurant here.

Azar presented a plan proposed by the owner of the Oxford Chick-fil-A to conduct the test in the parking lot of Lowe’s on Hwy. 6E. The Chick-fil-A food catering rig has been setting up at Lowe’s one day a week for about a month.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, but aldermen have also heard complaints that Chick-fil-A has been selling food in the city without a vendor’s license. Normally anyone setting up such a visible transient business in such a high visibility area would be shut down almost immediately by the Code Office, usually after aldermen began getting calls.

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No aldermen made such calls to the Code Office, though, as elected officials had no appetite to appear as the cause local people were denied the much-loved chicken sandwiches and nuggets sold by the Atlanta-based family business with hundreds of franchises.

City officials addressed the matter with Azar, who was in contact with the food truck’s owners in his recruitment of the franchise. Azar asked aldermen for a six-month period to begin this week that would allow Chick-fil-A to bring their truck once a week at one of four locations – Lowe’s parking lot, the Downtown Square, the Cotton Warehouse parking lot, and at the Civic Center.

“They are testing our market to see our capacity for a possible store,” Azar said. Should Chick-fil-A decide to build a location in Batesville, Azar said the economic impact for the whole city would be “phenomenal.”

Mayor Hal Ferrell said he fully supported waiving the 90 day waiting period. “We ought to be able to say yes we will issue you a permit for the study. They are not coming over here to sell chicken sandwiches in a parking lot, they want to have a business here,” he said.

Aldermen were fully supportive of the idea of a test study, but had concerns about setting precedents for businesses who want to “try out” the Batesville market before making a commitment.

“I want Chick-fil-A as bad as anyone but there are hundreds of other people in town that pay taxes on businesses and I want to make sure we don’t open a tremendous can of worms here, “ said Stan Harrison, “two or three locations sounds like a good idea to me. I’m not trying to hold back progress, but I know there are going to be some people asking some questions.”

Ferrell pushed back, pointing out that the proposed test marketing was unique because of the brand that is considering locating here. “We shouldn’t do anything to prohibit Chick-fil-A from coming in and looking and seeing. We wouldn’t want them to think the city had anything to do with discouraging them from coming,” he said.

“I’m not against this, but I’m in business and a lot of other people are, too, and I want to make sure we consider all that we are doing before we allow  this and the next man comes in next month and then another one and another one,” Harrison said.

Fellow aldermen agreed with both Ferrell and Harrison on points, anxious to allow Chick-fil-A a variance and special exception, but understanding that the arrangement would have further implications with future businesses.

In the end, the board agreed to allow Chick-fil-A to bring the food truck once a week for three months with the location restricted to the Lowe’s parking lot. In the meantime, Chick-fil-A will complete required paperwork for future locations for the truck, and the matter will come back before the board of aldermen at the end of the 90 day trial period.

Azar said the Partnership will pay the $100 vendor fee for Chick-fil-A and will continue to work closely with the owners to make a future location here a reality.

“This is an economic development project and this is what  we do,” Azar said after the meeting. “I’m thankful the board allowed this special exception and I hope we soon get the good news that Batesville has been chosen as a permanent location.”

“Landing a Chick-fil-A is a game changer, and would put our city and county in a different league. Other businesses that are looking at possible locations will be drawn to Batesville because everyone knows that Chick-fil-A does their homework first. If they come here, it will open all kinds of avenues for future development,” Azar said.