They already had a tough time getting noticed – overshadowed by the similarly-named American chain – but metro Toronto chicken restaurant Chick-Felay’s has been unwittingly pulled into a gay-marriage controversy it didn’t create.
The furor was sparked, of course, by Chick-fil-A, the major chain based thousands of miles away in Atlanta, Ga., but Chick-Felay’s has been forced to assure incensed customers that they aren’t part of it. Chick-Felay’s staff was understandably confused when a few patrons accused them of working at a “discriminatory” company or refused to pay after ordering. ”The servers were like, ‘What’s going on?’” Chick-Felay’s founder and CEO Nabeel Khan told the Wall Street Journal. Before they could answer their ranting customers, though, they had to educate themselves on exactly what was going on south of their border.
Chick-fil-A has not-so-secretly sympathized with conservative causes for years, evidenced by its affiliated WinShape charity having donated more than $5 million to anti-gay groups since 2003. Every branch is closed on Sunday, and Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy often quotes the Bible, though he never spoke publicly about his social beliefs until June 16, when he said on the Ken Coleman show, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes marriage.’” Cathy has denied that the company has ever expressed prejudice in its hiring or serving practices, but nonetheless his comments incited a strong back-and-forth across political lines. And now, across geographic ones.
To be sure, Cathy’s company might encounter some cultural differences with Khan’s. Most of the Canadian company’s branches are halal-certified, approved under Islamic dietary regulations. And Chick-Felay’s serves more than just mass-produced chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. Their menu is based on Portuguese peri-peri seasonings born out of North Africa, and Afghani fare also claims a small spot on the menu, from Khan’s cultural home. But despite the breadth of Chick-Felay’s offerings, it hasn’t yet been able to gain much traction outside of the Toronto area – or even online.
A Google search for Chick-Felay’s surprisingly autocorrects to Chick-fil-A, and the Canadian chain boasts a paltry four restaurants (with a fifth on the way). Compare that to Chick-fil-A’s more than 1,600 stores across the entire U.S. – though there are none in Canada.
“How can they mistake us, when it’s a completely different logo, different colors, different menu, different name?” Khan told the Wall Street Journal. A business owner trying to drum up his own uniqueness can be forgiven for his incredulity. But really, it’s not a far-fetched confusion. For the average chicken consumer, the similarities are noticeable, and it’s not just because of the homophonic quality of their names. Each sports a hyphen in their name, red signage in a chicken-like scrawl, and, most crucially, chicken on the menu. But Khan would have the world know that he keeps politics out of his.