Southern Utah University’s on-campus Chick-fil-A is set to reopen on Dec. 6 from 4-8 p.m. for the first time since spring semester 2021 and has been expanded to have a full menu.
The long-awaited reopening comes after over seven months of construction and remodeling of all SUU’s dining facilities. Previously, the changes including the reopening of Chick-fil-A were promised to be completed by the start of fall semester 2021, but a collection of supply chain issues and other obstacles inhibited their progress.
To understand the issue, SUU’s Vice President of Finance & Administration Marvin Dodge explained, we have to understand how the university’s dining services operate.
“We contract out our food services to Chartwells Corporation,” Dodge said. “There are always complaints about food service and Chartwells has certainly had some misses.”
For years, Dodge had discussed the need for a dining hall refresh. So when it came time for SUU to decide whether to renew their contract with Chartwells or end it, negotiations began quickly.
“They brought to the table that if we renewed our contract with them, as a show of good faith and their commitment to SUU, they would invest $4.5 million to remodel our dining hall and expand Chick-fil-A,” said Dodge. “The outcome was to renew our contract with them.”
In May 2021, all campus dining services closed for construction. The hope was to expand Chick-fil-A’s kitchen and completely remodel the new “T-Bird Eats” dining hall before fall classes started on Sept. 8. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
“We are living in interesting times because COVID has caused so many issues in the supply chain,” Dodge said. “Part of why Chick-fil-A is so well-loved is the consistent quality of their food and taste… they’re very particular about all of their restaurants.”
In September, Chick-fil-A’s corporate headquarters sent an initial inspector to Cedar City to see if the restaurant was ready to open. However, many pieces of the kitchen including a new point-of-sale system had not yet been installed. Because of the restaurant’s strict rules for kitchen readiness, they were not permitted to open for business until everything was completely installed, programmed and operational.
“We are on [the POS system owners’] schedule for somebody to come out and they’ll turn all those machines on and get them ready to go,” Dodge said. “Then once every single thing in the restaurant is done, we can schedule to have their inspector come out. But we can’t even schedule that until everything is ready to open. Knowing that they are so particular, we are trying to make sure every single detail is taken care of before they come back out.”
Even if the storefront itself is finished, the restaurant still relies on student workers to staff the establishment. Like many other fast food restaurants in the area, Director of Dining Services Dante Perry struggled to find enough employees to run Chick-fil-A.
“At the same time we were scrambling to finish all this remodeling, [Perry] is having to hire an army of students to staff all these food service organizations and he’s having a hard time,” Dodge said. “He’s been hit from all corners.”
The tardiness of the restaurant’s opening has been joked about and teased by students and faculty alike the whole semester. SUU’s official Twitter account even tweeted about it in October, joking about the popularity of the restaurant:
Waiting for Chick-fil-a to be done like: pic.twitter.com/v3Ri2DM5nZ
— Southern Utah University (@SUUtbirds) October 8, 2021
Last week, red-clad Chick-fil-A employees were seen training behind the closed storefront. A Barstool Instagram account posted a photo and comments joked that “I can already hear the ‘It’s my pleasure.’”
Dodge hopes that even though construction was not on the exact timeframe they hoped, the improvements will benefit Chick-fil-A’s service capabilities and sales. Because of the expansion of the kitchen area, the restaurant no longer is just an “express” location.
“They will now have their full menu including breakfast,” said Dodge. “It also allows us to do Chick-fil-A catering and to sell it at football and basketball games because we can take it to other areas on campus. When it was just an express, we were not authorized to do that.”
Dodge encourages students to be patient with dining service workers, staff and especially Chick-fil-A employees during this time.
“I can assure you from my position of responsibility for food services to Chartwells and to [Perry] and his team that we were all chomping at the bit to get Chick-fil-A open,” Dodge said. “We are all anxious to get it up and running.”
Chick-fil-A’s hours moving forward in the semester will be Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Sharwan Smith Student Center.
Story by Aspen English