At the end of January, a flurry of my family members and friends rushed to Chick-Fil-A, on South Florida Avenue, to use the last of their app deals and gift cards. The drive through was full, as well as the inside. The CFA, the only one on the south side of the Polk Parkway, was closing.
Chick-Fil-A has only a few locations in Lakeland overall. Of those that are still open, two are north of Interstate 4, inside and outside of the Lakeland Square Mall, respectively; the other is inside the Student Union Building of Southeastern University, east of Highway 98. The nearest after those is in Winter Haven.
The reason for the beloved (and controversial) food chain’s closure is not because of a financial fault—quite the opposite, in fact. Chick-Fil-A’s success, its business, is the main impetus for the tear-down was that they “have simply outgrown” the building, according to Chick-fil-A South Florida Avenue’s Facebook page.
“The Chick-fil-A at South Florida Avenue will undergo a complete rebuild beginning February 1 to better serve our guests,” the post read. “The remodel is scheduled to take five months and with a tentative grand opening tracking for this summer (sic).”
At the beginning of the month, the CFA videoed their demolition. A crane wrecked the building, all furniture and personnel emptied, and the South Florida Ave. CFA Facebook page now has an empty, leveled dirt lot with the Chick-fil-A sign as its profile picture.
Micaela Kallin is a freshman exercise science major at FSC. She had a job at CFA South Florida before it closed and was demolished, but she’s worked for CFA 2 years already, in her hometown of Sanford.
Kallin said that when the staff was informed about the remodel, they were offered shifts at the CFA outside the Lakeland Square Mall on U.S. Highway 98. Last week, though, she was only offered four hours of work, compared to her usual 25, even though the staff assured that workers’ hours wouldn’t be cut.
“It’s a little bit difficult because I’m trying to save up,” Kallin said. “It’s actually been nice to have a break from work; I’m able to study more and I have more time to relax. It’s… stressful, because I’m trying to plan ahead for next year. It’s more difficult to save money.”
Many of the staff was worried when the remodel announcement was made, Kallin said. “People asked, ‘Are we going to even have a job?’” she said. Kallin noted that she has considered getting a second job to to afford college, but that management was very ‘chill’ about the situation, and that they reassured that the staff was still going to be employed.
One of the ways that CFA has kept that promise for its employees was that the team and staff of Lakeland CFA have opened two food trucks on the south side. One is near to the demolition site near the Family Fun Center arcade, and the other is in a lot next to Carlton Music, north of the corner of Beacon Road and Harden Boulevard.
Some of the staff, including an older woman who has been working at the south side CFA since it opened, have moved from the building to the food trucks. Also, however, many of the employees have transferred to the north side location: between 50 and 70, according to Kallin.
Even when reduced from a full kitchen to a food truck, CFA staff are cordial and over-serving. When I visited the truck at Carlton Music, I pulled into the empty grass lot and opened my door.
“You don’t have to get out of your car!” one of the employees yelled. She walked over. “You could’ve just driven up to us and we would’ve taken your order.”
She’d brought a menu with her, and she listed what was available: teas, Cokes, water, the chicken biscuit, and Chick-n-Minis: CFA’s signature breakfast options. I ordered two biscuits, and another attendant brought them over with change from what I’d paid. “We didn’t have enough cash, so I brought two dollars in quarters,” he said. “Is that okay?”
As I was driving out, more cars arrived. CFA has done considerable marketing work through their social media presence to continue engaging their customers: on Feb. 6, every tenth customer ate free.
Kallin compared the CFAs that she has worked at. The remodel on the south side, she said, needed to happen—because the building had started out as a Boston Market, instead of as a CFA, it was old and dirty, in need of a do-over. The north side has a different managerial atmosphere that she is trying to get used to; she described it as more strict.
Both the north and south side CFAs are operated by Scott Brickhouse, a vocal and present figure on the social media pages for both restaurants. Kallin’s account of his involvement with the restaurants differs from his online persona, however.
“Compared to my previous boss, I don’t know him at all,” she said. “I would see [the Sanford CFA operator] every day; I’ve probably seen [Brickhouse] five or six times in my life… I would describe him as more relaxed and hands-off.”
Ultimately, Kallin said that the change is good. “It’s a good thing to happen,” she said.
For more information about the CFA remodel, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of summer 2019, visit Chick-fil-A South Florida Avenue’s Facebook page. The page includes updates about deals, locations and construction and features an artist’s rendering of what the CFA to be built will look like.