Note from Dan: While I’m at the beach with my family I’m treating you to some columns that ran within the past year. This one first appeared Sept. 29, 2011. Since then, Bojangles owner Stan Seymour lost his bid for Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, and Salem finally got it’s long-desired Chick Fil A.
Salem is a city that rarely squawks. But for many years there’s been one oft-heard gripe around town: no Chick-fil-A.
Salemites have to drive all the way to Valley View or Tanglewood malls to feast on a crispy chicken sandwich deluxe and waffle fries.
That 8-mile outrage is a shameful stain on Salem’s otherwise stellar record of luring fast-food joints to West Main Street, which is pretty much a giant mall food court except it has lots of drive-throughs and no common roof.
So there was lots of clucking when Salem crowed it had finally landed a Chick-fil-A for West Main. It would join McDonald’s and KFC and Subway and Taco Bell and Pizza Hut and Hardee’s, Arby’s, Zaxby’s, Wendy’s, Quiznos, Burger King, Sonic, Firehouse Subs, Sam’s Hotdog Stand, Dairy Queen, Starbucks and Sheetz.
But it’s ruffled the feathers of Stan Seymour, who owns Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits outlets in our valley and who just happens to be running for the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.
One of his chicken stands is on West Main, and he sounds madder than a wet hen over the Chick-fil-A plan.
Seymour said Salem is being more lenient on parking, landscaping and setbacks with Chick-fil-A than it was with his Bojangles’ outlet. The city and Chick-fil-A deny it.
“We have and will continue to work closely with city officials to ensure we abide by all requirements as we construct and operate this new restaurant,” said Chick-fil-A spokeman Mark Baldwin.
Seymour has appealed to the city board of zoning appeals, and if he loses there, he could drag this out even longer by appealing again to circuit court.
“Nobody should have to follow those laws,” he said. “Maybe they’ll get them off the books now.” And “It’ll hurt my business, so I’m going to slow it down if I can.”
Seymour told me Wednesday that he had warned Salem city officials, in writing, about developing the location a year ago.
All of this forced an unhappy Salem City Council to postpone action on the new Chick-fil-A this week. Mayor Randy Foley said he hated to see “someone abuse the process and delay it on purpose.” Councilwoman Lisa Garst cast her vote to delay with “great disappointment.”
Figuratively, you could say council flipped Seymour the bird.
So who’s the winner here?
It’s not the junk-food hungry people of Salem. They seem destined for an even longer Chick-fil-A drought.
It’s not the city of Salem, which stands accused of playing favorites to recruit a long-sought fast-food franchise to the trans fat oil slick known as West Main Street.
And it’s not the privately owned and quite profitable Chick-fil-A company, which already has nearly 1,600 locations in 37 states. They don’t need Salem for their bottom line.
The winner is clearly Stan Seymour, who early in his campaign told this newspaper’s Katelyn Polantz, “People asked, ‘Are you going to put a chicken in every pot?’ I said, ‘No, but I’m going to stir it.’”
He certainly has done that. The guy is no birdbrain.
Yesterday, Seymour was on the front page of The Roanoke Times. Today, people on blogs and Facebook are writing about his restaurants.
Some are calling him a free-enterprise hypocrite and not so slyly suggesting he’s too chicken to compete. Others counter that Seymour’s standing up for small-business rights against governments that favor large corporations.
On my blog, readers are joking that even though he’s running as an independent, Seymour is so conservative his chicken stands serve only right wings. “I serve them out the left side of the building, though,” Seymour cracked.
As recently as Monday, nobody in this valley was talking about Bojangles’ or its fried bologna biscuits or Stan Seymour or his run for the board of supervisors. Now, lots of people are.
Seymour said he’d had nearly 20 calls of support from residents of Salem. Meanwhile, Salemites who are angry with him can’t even vote against him.
By that yardstick, the guy’s a political marketing genius. He broke a few eggs and now he’s got a mouth-watering omelet. There’s almost no such thing as bad publicity.
As for Salem, and the fate of its long-sought Chick-fil-A, former Mayor Howard Packett noted the sky won’t fall no matter which way this ends.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to go hungry on West Main Street,” he cackled.