When Rev. Jonathan Winn opens a Chick-fil-A restaurant in West Toledo on Thursday (Nov. 29), he’ll be relying a great deal on his previous job experience -- as a pastor.
Running a Chick-fil-A restaurant has much in common with being a pastor at an evangelical church, if the restaurant chain’s “corporate purpose” is an indication: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
Winn, who is the operator of the new franchise opening at the busy intersection of Sylvania Avenue and Talmadge Road, recited the corporate purpose by heart and also pointed out that the company’s “second-mile service” policy is taken directly from the Bible.
“It’s a biblical principle taken straight out of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount,” he said, citing Matthew 5:41: “‘If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.’”
Winn, 34, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., graduated with a double major in Bible and business from Cedarville University, a Christian university in southwest Ohio.
That’s where he met his wife, Krista.
Toledo became a meeting place for the two students when school was out, and Winn has fond memories of his new hometown.
“Toledo is halfway between Grand Rapids and Columbus, Ohio, where Krista is from. We would meet in Toledo, go to the zoo, go eat at what was then the Navy Bistro. We ended up getting engaged three years later at Maumee Bay State Park,” he said.
After college, Winn was hired as a minister at Maranatha Bible Church in Akron, Ohio, serving as pastor of the college and young adult ministry. He is ordained through the nondenominational church.
“I ended up doing that for eight years plus,” Winn said. “Then the church got really big really, really fast. My job got to being in front of the community, speaking in front of large groups of people and working in administration overseeing the staff.”
As his job responsibilities changed, he said, he and his wife – who have three children ages 5, 3 and 1 -- decided to “transition out to have a bigger impact in the city.”
He applied to be a franchise operator for Chick-fil-A, despite daunting odds.
The company receives about 20,000 applications every year from people who want to open a franchise, according the company’s website. But the privately owned corporation, which has 1,600 restaurants in 39 states and the District of Columbia, opens just 65 to 70 new restaurants per year. And only about 5 percent of franchise operators leave the company annually.
Last year Chick-fil-A reported record sales of $4 billion, and 2011 also marked the 44th consecutive year that sales have grown since the company was founded in 1967.
Winn was first awarded a franchise in Canton, which he ran for three years before taking the opportunity run the free-standing Chick-fil-A in Toledo, next to Westfield Franklin Park Mall.
The restaurant will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, serving breakfast (until 10:30 a.m.), lunch and dinner. Like all Chick-fil-A’s, it will be closed on Sundays.
The new restaurant will have two drive-throughs, a children’s play area, and indoor seating for 134 people. (The Chick-fil-A that has been operating inside Westfield Franklin Park Mall for 20 years will remain open.)
“I hired close to 100 people here, and probably half of those are full-time positions,” Winn said of the new restaurant. “Our strategy is to make sure the restaurant is excellently run, with the best fast food in the city, the best staff in the city, the cleanest facility in the city. That’s what Chick-fil-A’s do.”
Going the second-mile covers everything from “helping moms get their trays out to the table” to “refreshing beverages for free,” Winn said.
Mike Herrick, who operated the restaurant inside the mall before opening a free-standing Chick-fil-A in Perrysburg on Nov. 1, said that when it comes to getting a customer’s order right, the restaurant’s tolerance for error is “zero.”
“You could have the best food, the best building, the cleanest facility and the friendliest staff, but if you get someone’s order wrong, that’s all they’re going to remember about their visit,” Herrick said.
Winn said the controversy that erupted last summer over a statement on marriage by Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, Inc., was the result of a misunderstanding.
“What the president was sharing was his personal view, what his family view was, and not necessarily the view of everyone who works at Chick-fil-A. It’s not part of corporate policy,” Winn said. “The backlash seems like a pretty large media frenzy based on misinformation.”
Cathy, the son of Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, had said in an interview that the company is “very much supporting of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit.”
That comment stirred protests from advocates of same-sex marriage, and a show of support from political pundit Mike Huckabee, who urged Chick-fil-A supporters to show up in force at the restaurant on Aug. 1. Lines at the Toledo restaurant stretched outside the mall as people waited for hours to be served that day.
“The great part was that Chick-fil-A was able to use that controversy as a stage to get out there and impact as many people as possible,” Winn said. “It was a record-settting day.”
Even though Winn has left full-time ministry, he is still an ordained minister.
“I am licensed to do weddings and I preached at the wedding of two of my employees in Canton not long ago,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Chick-fil-A at 4260 W. Sylvania Avenue will hold its “First 100 Celebration,” a corporate policy since 2003 in which the first 100 customers 18 and over will receive a one-year supply of free Chick-fil-A meals (in the form of 52 free-meal certificates). The line officially forms at 6 a.m. Wednesday with free meal cards being distributed at 6 a.m. Thursday (Nov. 29).
For Winn, his goal is not just to serve people chicken sandwiches, salads and peppermint-chocolate-chip shakes.
“We make sure we’re making emotional connections in the community,” he said. “We are leveraging our food and using our little restaurant here as a stage where people can be encouraged and welcomed and valued.”