ATLANTA — S. Truett Cathy, the billionaire founder of the privately held Chick-fil-A restaurant chain that famously closes on Sundays but also drew unwanted attention on same-sex marriage in recent years because of his family’s conservative views, died early Monday, a company spokesman said. He was 93.
Chick-fil-A spokesman Mark Baldwin told The Associated Press that Cathy died at home surrounded by members of his family. Funeral plans had not yet been finalized, he said.
Cathy opened his first postwar diner in an Atlanta suburb in 1946 and by 1967 he had founded and opened his first Chick-fil-A Inc. restaurant in Atlanta. Over ensuing decades, the chain’s boneless chicken sandwich he is credited with inventing would propel Chick-fil-A expansion to more than 1,800 outlets in 39 states and the nation’s capital.
By early 2013, the company says on its website, annual sales topped $5 billion as the chain offered up a taste of the South that went beyond chicken to such offerings as sweet tea, biscuits and gravy.
Under the religiously conservative founder, the chain gained prominence for its Bible Belt observance of Sunday – none of its hundreds of restaurants are open on that day, to allow employees a day of rest. Its executives often said the chain made as much money in six days as its competitors do in seven.
Article continues belowThose religious views helped win Cathy and his family loyal following from conservative customers, but also invited protests when reports began surfacing in 2011 that the WinShape Foundation, the company’s charitable arm established by Cathy in 1984, had donated millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations.
Not long after, Cathy’s son, Dan, who is currently chairman and president of the chain, publicly denounced same-sex marriage, telling the the Baptist Press in 2012 that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.”
Gay rights groups and others called for boycotts and kiss-ins at Cathy’s restaurants. The Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids’ meals, while politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there.
The controversy eventually subsided, but two years later the company remained at odds with the LGBT community and supporters of marriage equality.