The first stand-alone Chick-fil-A restaurant in Queens, located in Elmhurst, opened its doors on Wednesday, Feb. 24, though without the usual fanfare.
Typically, Chick-fil-A restaurant openings are grand affairs — customers have been known to camp out a day before for a chance to be among the 100 guests to win one Chick-fil-A Sandwich Meal per week for an entire year. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chick-fil-A canceled its traditional “First 100” event at new restaurants last July.
This didn’t hamper Boto Joseph’s excitement; he arrived to the new eatery, located at 40-27 82nd St., at 8:45 a.m., with a red folding chair in tow. He was the first in line.
The father of three waited along with five more Chick-fil-A enthusiasts for the store to open. Joseph said Chick-fil-A is one of the best fast food restaurants around — and his favorite.
“Their service is incredible. It’s the only place where every worker says, ‘my pleasure’ when they serve you,” he said. “And the food is delicious. Just so much care is given to it.”
He also felt grateful that the fast-food chain will give out free Chick-fil-A meals for a year to 100 first responders from the community. Joseph, who lives across from Elmhurst Hospital with this family, witnessed firsthand the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the community.
“That’s such a message that that our neighborhood needs. Part of my excitement was it just is a sign of maybe hope? Here’s a place that’s coming to our neighborhood and giving out free food to our first responders. I just felt so good about it. It’s super encouraging,” Joseph said.
The franchise store, which is owned by Aman Mekonen, is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. from Monday through Saturday. It operates under strict COVID-19 guidelines and, for now, only provides carry-out or ordering through third-party delivery apps.
Asmeret Mekonen, the store’s general manager and the older sister of Aman Mekonen, was thrilled about the opening, even during a pandemic. Mekonen, who has worked in the restaurant and corporate world for over 15 years, has experienced every aspect of business launches that one can think of, but COVID-19 presents a different challenge.
“There is a lot more to think about, obviously. We just have to be a bit more cautious. There are just a few more steps,” she said, explaining that team members have to have their temperature checked and logged when they arrive at work, keep a social distance as much as possible, and adhere to COVID-19 cleaning guidelines.
“We are very cognizant of the fact this was a community that was really hit hard at the beginning of COVID. And I remember just watching that from home and feeling hopeless. And the last thing we want to do is have that happen again,” Mekonen explained.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 27 to correctly state the new Chick-fil-A is located in Elmhurst, not Jackson Heights. We regret the error.