LYNNWOOD — Eric Pak always wanted Chick-fil-A as a kid, getting his mom to promise to take him to one when they traveled out of state.
Somehow, his family never ended up going.
With Chick-fil-A opening a franchise in his hometown of Lynnwood, Pak made sure to be one of the first 100 people camping outside.
“Now that I’m an adult, I’m going to get all of the Chick-fil-A I want,” said Pak, 26, who works as a data analyst for Expedia in Bellevue.
The restaurant at 3026 196th St. SW next to Lowe’s is scheduled to open at 6 a.m. Thursday. With new franchises, Chick-fil-A gives a free meal once a week for a year to the first 100 adult customers.
Eric Pak was No. 46 in line. His friend, Robin Choi, was No. 45.
“People always hype it up,” said Choi, who ate his first Chick-fil-A meal a year ago in Los Angeles. “When I had it, it met those expectations.”
It was a festive atmosphere on Wednesday outside the Lynnwood location, the last of three Chick-fil-A restaurants to open in the Puget Sound area.
Dozens of people pitched tents. Chick-fil-A put out coffee and tea for the campers. And the restaurant gave away food at meal time to campers who lined up at the drive-through window. Pak took a video of himself getting his lunch that he was going to post on Snapchat.
The smell of cooked chicken wafted over the parking lot.
Inside, Chick-fil-A employees bustled through the kitchen getting ready for the opening, squeezing lemon after lemon, baking fresh cookies and making their first meals for the campers.
Chick-fil-A team trainer Desiree Wilson is assigned to the restaurant for the next several weeks.
“Whether you eat at Chick-fil-A here or at a Chick-fil-A in Atlanta, Georgia, you’ll get the same consistent quality,” Wilson said.
Chick-fil-A is a popular restaurant. Its sales have grown each year for more than 47 years to now more than $5 billion. And the Lynnwood restaurant already has nearly 6,000 Facebook fans.
But in an era of divided politics, Chick-fil-A is polarizing. The chain’s owners are Southern Baptists who close the restaurant on Sundays. Founder S. Truett Cathy was called a champion of conservative causes by The Wall Street Journal.
S. Truett’s son, CEO Dan Cathy, spoke out against same-sex marriage in 2012. “We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,” he said, according to the Washington Post.
In the parking lot on Wednesday, people just seemed to want a chicken sandwich.
Steve and Linda Kientz came to camp with five of their eight children. “We’re making a family day out of it,” Steve Kientz said.
The Kientzes used to eat at Chick-fil-A when they lived in Kansas; at least a couple of their kids would eat breakfast and lunch at the restaurant on some days.
They moved to Granite Falls a couple of years ago when Boeing transferred Steve Kientz to Everett. So they were excited with the new restaurants opening in the area; until recently, the nearest franchise was in Boise.
And they’re also excited to be among the first 100. “This is going to pay off for us,” Linda Kientz said.
Another one of the campers, Rachael Rose, 33, of Bellevue, had never eaten at Chick-fil-A until Wednesday. She was attracted to the free meal once a week deal.
“I love free things,” Rose said. “We’re a family on a budget. We have two little kids.”
She went camping in line while her husband Richard went to his job at a tech consulting firm. Rose’s mother-in-law is in town so she can watch their children, ages 5 and 3.
“I don’t have to clean poopy diapers. I don’t have to make dinner,” Rose said. “I can read a book from the beginning to the end. I can take a long walk. This is like a vacation for me.”