On the way to lunch last Tuesday my friend Linda Simon made a passing reference to Chick-fil-a discontinuing their coleslaw, which seemed a rather odd thing to say since the very idea seemed preposterous. Since Linda is not generally known as a merry prankster I simply turned to her and shouted as loud as I could “WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEY’RE DISCONTINUING THEIR COLESLAW????”.
A few minutes later we were sitting at our local Mellow Mushroom (another successful Atlanta-based restaurant chain) where I had calmed down enough to pull up the bad news on my phone, straight from the news/PR section of Chick-fil-a’s website.
As soon as I saw the article had been titled “An Ode to Coleslaw” I cringed because it was clear that this was no mere rumor – the chain had committed to dumping this long-time side dish from their menu like so many table scraps. I mean, lookit: they’d even paid their ad firm to make a video about it!
In a most unusual, very classy move Chick-fil-a posted the recipe for their coleslaw.
But for someone for whom making tomato soup from a can is a major culinary feat, this recipe might as well have been a free kit for building my very own life-size robot version of Jennifer Aniston; I’d love to make it but sitting down to actually put it together is never going to happen.
I’m pretty sure that Chick-fil-a has been altering its menu for at least a decade, if not longer. If you could travel back in time to 1986 to sample the menu you would probably find it fattier and greasier and with less choices. As consumers we don’t always detect gradual change, but instant change upsets us.
Over the next hour I bored Linda with my feelings about change and Chick-fil-a, which is an Atlanta company. As a matter of fact, I was raised inside of “The Chick-fil-a Triangle” (the CFT, is an area defined by a staggering number of full-service Chick-fil-a restaurants a very short distance from each other; three of them being Dwarf Houses, the other being a special variant called Truett’s Grill, named after the Truett Cathy, founder of the chain), so I feel that I have special dispensation to criticize the restaurant.
Rare is the week that we denizens of the Chick-fil-a Triangle have not stopped by one of our many restaurants for some variety of food, from the universally beloved chicken sandwiches to more esoteric fare like the hot brown (a dish literally filled with various flavors of fat) to the oh-so-southern carrot salad (my mom’s favorite). In the summertime my family would often buy a container of Chick-fil-a’s coleslaw and put it on top of home-cooked hotdogs. It’s been a part of our family for as long as I can remember, and I suppose that one of the reasons that Chick-fil-a has enjoyed such a rich coverage on our part of town is that founder Truett Cathy attended a great big church in downtown Jonesboro.
The arrival of Truett’s Grill was a particular treat for those of us living in Truett’s stomping ground.
Chick-fil-a’s website describes Truett’s Grill as:
…a full-service ’50s diner-themed concept that features the full Chick-fil-A menu, as well as select items from Truett Cathy’s original Dwarf Grill restaurant, which he and his brother opened in Hapeville, Georgia, in 1946. Featuring a streamline diner design with unique decor, Truett’s Grill offers counter service, seated dine-in service and drive-thru service. The first Truett’s Grill opened in 1996 in Morrow, Georgia, to commemorate Truett’s 50th Anniversary as a restaurateur.
It was really quite a fun experience to go to Truett’s during that first year, as a good deal of the parking lot had been turned over to vintage cars to really sell the look and feel of a 50s diner. As a native Atlantan and one of the very early ground crews at Delta back in the 1950s, my dad had long dined at that very first Chick-fil-a up in Hapeville and often told stories about the way you could order food from the short order cooks, and I recall that special lived-in feeling the place had whenever we went there in my childhood. So it came as no surprised when my parents became fans of Truett’s Grill.
They soon became regular patrons of the place, making it a regular part of their shopping routine. My dad really enjoyed looking at the old cars from his younger years. Along the way my folks practically adopted a pretty young waitress who would share stories of her growing young family as the years passed, and she always asks about my folks if I see here there now.
It’s been quite some time since my dad has been able to go to anywhere, including Truett’s, as life moves on and things change. I do of course realize that I have a great deal of emotional investment in this home-grown restaurant chain. I know that being upset at the removal of a sugar-laden bowl of chopped up cabbage might seem silly to many people (especially those who don’t like cabbage), but it’s just one of the many disappearing parts of my Atlanta experience that reminds me that the world is changing out from under me faster than I’d like to admit.
Of course it’s no secret that Dan Cathy and his team have been actively leading the chain toward healthier selections over the past decade, laying claim to an industry leadership role in healthy menus while sticking to their culture of superb customer service and participating materially in the local community. Many are probably unaware that Dan has also been actively involved in our state’s motion picture industry, and may in some way be involved in a 700-acre, US$1Billion+ development based around his investment in Atlanta’s Pinewood Studios, south of Fayetteville. It has been terrific to have such a well-funded advocate for our industry (his airplane hanger served as studios for Drop Dead Diva for many years) and Fayette and Coweta counties stand to prosper greatly from this development.
Under Dan’s leadership the Chick-fil-a franchise has continued growing into places like New York City and California, and as it grows it seems to lose a little of its Atlanta feeling from year to year, which is only natural. I work for a company founded by an iconic Atlanta architect, and in the last six years the company’s culture began to change as the founder’s eldest son on the west coast stepped in to lead the firm. As our company spread to encompass both coasts we traded our southern accent and southern charm for something new.
And I suppose that may be the real reason that I’m saddened by this news about a stupid side dish.
As Chick-fil-a retires coleslaw from the majority* of its chain this month in favor of a “super food” item made of “kale and broccolini” created by a trending celebrity chef (in what seems to be an attempt to cash in on our nations’ foodie movement), the restaurant will be retiring foods that remind me of special times and places and people from my childhood. They say that smells are especially evocative for stirring memories, and smells are related to tastes, so by taking away the old flavors Chick-fil-a may be taking away the keys to some of my favorite memories.
I’m scared, y’all.
Perhaps it is time to build some new memories and stop living in the past, but that sounds like as much work as making my own darned coleslaw.
* The Chick-fil-a “Ode” page currently states that coleslaw will remain at its heritage concept restaurants like the Dwarf House, and Atlanta’s Fox 5 has drawn up a list of those locations. Interestingly, I was told just last week at the window of the Riverdale Dwarf House that they would indeed be discontinuing the product along with the carrot salad. I daresay that the chain may need to educate its own crew as the day of the Chick-fil-a Coleslaw Catastrophe approaches.