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Motorists driving on the New York State Thruway have seen McDonald’s restaurants closing to make way for new chains. It’s a $450 million change to the 570-mile stretch spanning the state from east to west. One of the additions is Chick-fil-A. Though the chicken chain seems a benign substitute, many travelers are unhappy with the controversial choice.

Why are New York Thruway travelers upset about Chick-fil-A?

Chick-fil-A 'Closed Sundays' sign
Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays | Scott Olson/Getty Images

You might wonder how the nation’s most profitable chicken chain could be problematic. Everybody loves the sandwiches, polite workers, and efficient drive-thru. So what’s not to like? Chick-fil-A has a huge built-in problem: Its restaurants are closed on Sundays.

Though the company has the right to set its restaurants’ operating hours, Sundays are the busiest travel days on the New York Thruway. The expressway buzzes with residents returning from weekend treks. When the Thruway Authority announced Chick-fil-A would be one of the new additions to rest stops, some residents were OK with the decision, while others were not.

Wasn’t everybody aware of Chick-fil-A’s hours?

Many falsely assumed the chain would be open on Sunday. After all, it’s the busiest day on the Thruway. But a local news station covering the recent opening of the Chick-fil-A location at the Chittenango rest stop informed viewers: “You might be thinking with the new Chittenango location being on the Thruway, the chain might lake an exemption for hungry Sunday travelers. That won’t be the case. It will close on Sunday.” 

And just like that, many travelers became upset at the chain’s addition. “The Sunday closure is a brand requirement and one that Empire State Thruway Partners had to factor into the tenant plan,” a spokesperson told News Channel 9. “Empire State Thruway Partners explored a selection of restaurants and finalized agreements with specific brands to operate at the redeveloped service areas to enhance and improve the travel experience for our customers.”

There’s another problem

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy is infamous for his anti-LGBTQ stance
Chick-fil-A CEO Dan T. Cathy | Paras Griffin/Getty Images

The Thruway Partners tried to smooth over the kerfuffle. They reminded New Yorkers that the rest stops have more than one place to eat. (Nine of the 10 rest stops getting Chick-fil-A locations have at least one other restaurant, but Chittenango has only a Starbucks.)

However, that isn’t the only pushback the group has faced for its decision. It has also seen opposition because of Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s anti-LGBTQ stance and efforts to derail the Equality Act.

“This move by the Thruway Authority strikes us as sending a message to LGBTQ+ individuals and families that it doesn’t share the same commitment to their civil rights as New York State,” reads an open letter to the Thruway Authority. “We are requesting that you re-examine the list of approved concessions for these rest spots considering Chick-fil-A’s action against the LGBTQ+ community.”

Political and moral arguments aside, the decision is curious. With so many restaurants in the United States, why is a fast-food chain closed on Sundays even a consideration?

“We want to be clear that Chick-fil-A does not have a political or social agenda, and we welcome everyone in our restaurants,” the Atlanta-based company says. “We are proud to be represented by more than 200,000 diverse team members nationwide. We strive to be a positive influence in our local communities.”

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