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Remembering S. Truett Cathy – Founder of Chick-fil-A

S. Truett Cathy, Founder, Chick-fil-A

S. Truett Cathy, founder of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain and a devout Southern Baptist, passed away on Monday at age 93 after a life well-lived serving God and his fellow man.

To the thousands (perhaps millions) of Chick-fil-A employees and Christian seekers he touched through his business, his motivational books and speeches, and his Christian ministry, he will ever be remember as “Mr. Cathy,” a man who showed those who were prepared to listen that there was a power higher than the almighty dollar and next quarter’s earnings statement.

According to a 2012 profile in The Business Insider, Mr. Cathy and his brother Ben returned from the war and opened a diner in Atlanta called The Dwarf Grill, which was renamed The Dwarf House. Neither of them had any management or restaurant experience.

It was at this restaurant where the Cathys came up with the chicken sandwich that would later anchor the Chick-fil-A menu. His first Chick-fil-A branded restaurant opened in Atlanta's Greenbriar shopping center in 1967.

The Dwarf House brand still exists today, and it's billed as the "original home of Chick-fil-A." And Chick-fil-A has grown into a massive restaurant empire, and in the process Mr. Cathy became a self-made billionaire.

By 2012 Chick-fil-A had around 1,600 restaurants across 38 states, and it was the 10th most popular fast food chain in America, raking in more than $4 billion in annual sales. Two years ago it was the second-largest fast food chicken chain behind KFC.

Last year, on the strength of recent rapid growth, Chick-fil-A surpassed KFC with the most sales for a chicken restaurant chain in the U.S. The company reached $1 billion in sales in 2000. After hitting $3 billion in 2009, sales grew by $1 billion every two years to 2013.

Over the years, Mr. Cathy's company nurtured a reputation for fast and courteous service, urging its employees to use the phrase "My pleasure!" when dealing with customers and putting into action the day-to-day principles he outlined in his book, “It's Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men.

Perhaps this reputation is because Chick-fil-A's "Corporate Purpose" is not to make money, it is: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward to all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."

As it has grown, Chick-fil-A has remained privately held and is run by the Cathy family. Conducting business according to biblical principles has become an integral part of the Chick-fil-A brand, and it has remained closed-on-Sundays.

If you want a chicken sandwich on Sunday, don't go to Chick-fil-A, because it won't be open. The policy goes all the way back to 1946, and Mr. Cathy called it the best business decision he ever made.

The company explained the Sunday closure policy this way: "Cathy’s practice of closing his restaurants on Sunday is unique to the restaurant business and a testament to his faith in God. Within the first week of business at his Dwarf Grill restaurant in Hapeville, Ga. more than 60 years ago, Cathy knew that he would not deal with money on the “Lord’s Day.”

“There’s really no difference between biblical principles and business principles,” Mr. Cathy said at one restaurant opening, according to the Christian Examiner. “The Bible, which is a road map, tells a lot about how to operate a restaurant.”

"If it took seven days to make a living with a restaurant," Truett Cathy once famously said, "then we needed to be in some other line of work. Through the years, I have never wavered from that position."

Mr. Cathy taught a boy's Bible study on Sunday morning for over half a century, according to the Christian Examiner. Over the past few years he moved into "semi-retirement" from it, but said in 2012 he still taught "when there's an emergency."

During his some 68-years in the restaurant business Mr. Cathy accumulated a good sum of personal wealth for himself operating according to biblical principles. His net worth is around $1.3 billion, and in 2012 he clocked in as the 375th richest person in America, according to Forbes.

And as Minyanville's Danielle Sonnenberg put it, Mr. Cathy "puts his money where his faith is."

In Georgia, the billionaire became famous for running a summer camp that accommodates thousands of children. He also backed scholarship funds and built more than a dozen foster homes through the WinShape Foundation.

Mr. Cathy never wavered in his faith that he would succeed running his business according to his religious principles. Today, those of us who admired Mr. Cathy for his business acumen, for his good works, and for his wise counsel on how to live a Christian life, walk an Earth that is poorer for his passing, but that has been enriched forever by the great gifts he left us.

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