Chick-fil-A’s U.K. test location will not get a new lease

The six-month pilot location, a test of its international expansion strategy, will reportedly lose its lease amid pushback from LGBTQ activists.
Photograph courtesy of Chick-fil-A

It’s safe to say that Chick-fil-A’s test of its first location across the pond didn’t go as well as the company hoped.

The Atlanta-based chicken sandwich chain is reportedly losing the lease on what is described as a “pilot” location at a mall in Reading, U.K. According to BBC, the shopping center said the company’s lease would not be extended after an initial six-month period.

The comments came just one week after the location opened, and amid pushback from LGBTQ activists over the company’s controversial history regarding same-sex marriage.

“Chick-fil-A is always evaluating potential new locations in the hope of serving customers great food and award-winning service,” a Chick-fil-A spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “This six-month pilot licensed location in Reading, U.K., is part of our exploration in international markets.”

Losing a six-month lease is not the same as being required to close a permanent restaurant—the company obviously didn’t count on being there for long.

Yet the decision, coming so quickly after the location’s opening, has to be seen as a disappointment for a company that is starting to target international markets with its popular U.S. offering.

It also demonstrates the continued hurdles the chain has to leap as it works to distance itself from comments made seven years ago by CEO Dan Cathy.

Chick-fil-A has surged in the U.S., enjoying uninterrupted strong growth with its fast-food chicken sandwiches that have vaulted it into a spot among the five largest domestic restaurant chains, with more than $10 billion in system sales. The company operates 2,400 high-volume restaurants.

It has only recently started expanding in other countries. It opened its first international location in Toronto last month. The location opened to both customers and protests, according to reports. Chick-fil-A is planning as many as 15 locations in the market.

The company quietly opened its location in Reading, a 90-minute drive from London, on Oct. 10. That soon led to calls for a boycott. And then, the landlord of the mall indicated that it would not remain in the location beyond the six-month test period.

Chick-fil-A’s remarkable growth has come despite a cloud of controversy since Cathy’s remarks, made to a religious publication in 2012, regarding gay marriage. Though he vowed to “shut up” about the topic two years later, the controversy has continued to follow the chain.

It reared its head again earlier this year after a report in the publication Think Progress said that Chick-fil-A Foundation made donations to groups it said had anti-LGBTQ agendas. Chick-fil-A called reports that it funds a noninclusive agenda to be “inaccurate and misleading” and said the donations were for education programs.

Nevertheless, the issue has fueled an intensified campaign against the chain in places such as Texas, Buffalo, N.Y., and California.

That controversy has now followed the chain across an ocean.

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