THE LOOP — Chick-fil-A opened its second location in Chicago to plenty of fanfare Thursday, even if it was a scaled-down, shorter version of the company's usual hullabaloo.
First-timers and seasoned fans camped out at the new State and Lake street location to participate in a decade-old Chick-fil-A tradition: The first 100 in line get free meals each week for a year.
Participants had to get in line at 6 p.m. Wednesday and stay put until 6 a.m. Thursday, except for breaks to use the bathroom. Those who participate get 52 meals that include a sandwich, medium waffle fries and a medium drink.
One fan of the Georgia-based company showed up for his 23rd restaurant opening.
"Every one is a good time," said Oswego resident Rich Fitzgerald, 60, who has camped out at Chick-fil-A openings in 11 states.
He's amassed so many meals (that would be 1,196 including those from the State Street opening, to be exact), Fitzgerald said he often gives them out as gifts to friends, and it's become just as much about the experience as the chicken.
"It's like a reunion, because I see a lot of people I know," Fitzgerald said.
But this opening was a toned-down version of what he typically experiences at suburban Chick-fil-As, Fitzgerald said. The usual 24-hour event was cut to 12 hours, and fans had to stay along the sidewalk at State Street instead of a restaurant parking lot where the events often take place.
The first city location opened in 2011 near Loyola's Water Tower Campus, though there are others in the suburbs.
The company did its best to keep fans entertained with a few games and a DJ who spun music in the restaurant. And, of course, free chicken sandwiches for all.
Edgewater resident Monica Dixon, there for her ninth Chick-fil-A opening, said she was simply thankful for the mild weather.
Dixon, 32, has braved rain and snow for the free meals, which she said taste a bit like her St. Louis childhood.
"I've been eating Chick-fil-A since I was a kid," Dixon said. "I remember when I was in 2nd grade, if you got perfect attendance, you got a Chick-fil-A meal. So I always aimed for that."
Beyond the free chicken sandwich, some come to "First 100" events as a family tradition.
The college couple will be sent packing at the end of the summer with plenty of free meals to keep them fed when they go back to school in Virginia.
"Perfect for poor college students," Jones said.
Christa Miller, 55, said she and her husband enjoy camping out for multiple openings because "It's an adventure."
"These things are like a family party," Christa Miller said.
Steve Miller, 56, who works as a pastor, also said he and his family "like the values of this company," referring to controversial comments that a Chick-fil-A executive made about same-sex marriage in summer 2012.
Chick-fil-A received both support and a major backlash, including biting remarks from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, after company President Dan Cathy said he supported what he called the "biblical definition" of marriage.
After the comment, Emanuel said that the company's values "are not Chicago values," media reported at the time, and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) said he would block the chain from opening a location in his ward.
Meanwhile, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who has the only two Chicago locations in his ward, has reportedly voiced support for the company, even buying Chick-fil-A for officials at City Hall.