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SANTA BARBARA (California) — During the epidemic, business has soared for Chick-fil-A franchisee Travis Collins, due to a surge in demand for chicken sandwiches from his drive-through window.

Now he’s concentrating his efforts on containing the queues of automobiles that have spilled into nearby streets. In this wealthy seaside city, the city council has recommended designating his drive-through a public nuisance.


Not so fast, folks.

Customers brave enough to brave the congested lot for Chick-n-Strips or the iconic sandwich of chicken with pickles on a buttered bread have created so many traffic jams, transit delays, and dangers on the city’s major thoroughfare, according to neighbors and municipal authorities.

“It’s against the law, they know it’s against the law,” said adjacent homeowner Rick Closson, “but their chicken burgers are more important to them.” The retired pharmacist once spent a week counting the line of vehicles outside Chick-fil-A at 15-minute intervals and telling drivers who were obstructing sidewalk space that they were breaching the law. He said that most drivers ignored him and kept their eyes on the road.

Mr. Collins, the franchisee, said he’s recruited guards to guide traffic and has quadrupled the number of employees to move lines quicker.

“We regret that the traffic problem has progressed to this extent,” he added. “We’ve been working with the city and the community to find a permanent solution to the situation.”


In November, cars formed a queue on the street to access the Chick-fil-A drive-through in Santa Barbara.

Larry Bickford is shown here.

After the epidemic shuttered dining rooms and made consumers leery of inside locations, several fast-food restaurants have seen record-breaking drive-through lineups. Fried comfort food was likewise in high demand.

Businesses in Toledo, Ohio, and Beaumont, Texas, have filed lawsuits against Chick-fil-A franchisees in response to the rapid growth of drive-through lines. After a competitor restaurant next door complained that its customers couldn’t get around the queue, a court ordered another Chick-fil-A shop in Union Township, New Jersey, to temporarily shut its drive-through.

The food war is especially heated in Southern California’s car-centric sprawl, which some fast-food historians claim is the genesis of the contemporary drive-through experience.

In-N-Out, a cult burger chain, began in Los Angeles County and is credited with popularizing the usage of a two-way radio that enabled customers to place orders without having to leave their automobiles. It’s not uncommon to see a line 30 cars long at its Venice Boulevard store in Los Angeles, running through a nearby strip mall parking lot and down a residential street.

In March, the municipal council in Santa Barbara, a culinary mecca known as the American Riviera, spent over five hours being angry over the local Chick-fil-A drive-through. “It’s almost like we’re in L.A. today,” one resident remarked, describing the seaside neighborhood as “essentially unlivable” due to the traffic.

A homeowner threatened the mayor and another council member with a recall attempt if they didn’t act to label the drive-through a nuisance, according to the mayor and another council member.

Chick-fil-A in your neighborhood Employees, working moms, and a recent college graduate, among others, depicted the argument as a non-event, portraying the restaurant as a friendly workplace and a cheap and quick dinner choice.


Rick Closson said he’s had enough of the backed-up traffic.

The Wall Street Journal/Christine Mai-Duc

Josh Romero, a 25-year-old Santa Barbara video producer, said before the council that he was a “Chick-fil-A specialist,” having eaten there twice a week for the last five years.

Mr. Romero added, “I think it’s kind of amusing that people are so outraged about it,” immediately after placing his normal lunch order of four chicken strips, big fries, a Dr Pepper, and several sauces from his vehicle on a recent Friday.

Santa Barbara’s top transportation engineer, Derrick Bailey, claimed in a 14-page memorandum titled “Traffic Conditions Associated with Chick-fil-A Queuing” delivered to city authorities in January that the drive-through delayed traffic for an average of 70 minutes on weekdays and 92 minutes on Saturdays. On the busiest day of the research period, the backup was 212 hours.

When city councilman Eric Friedman was elected in 2017, he had no idea he’d be dealing with so many Chick-fil-A traffic concerns. He claimed he receives a dozen comments on the matter every month and is often addressed by residents at Trader Joe’s, where he works part-time.

Mr. Collins, the local franchisee, was joined in a virtual appearance by a retinue of lawyers and Chick-fil-A corporate officials during the March hearing. He begged with municipal authorities to postpone any decision on the drive-through until labor shortages subside and consumers get more used to eating inside.

The city council instructed staff to create a nuisance declaration after hours of discussion, but deferred issuing one until at least June. Chick-fil-lawyers A’s stated in a subsequent progress report to municipal authorities that the company’s adjustments had mostly erased the State Street line.

A uniformed guard organized automobiles into two neat lines during the dinner rush on a recent Friday. A long queue that had backed up onto the road was immediately removed. Customers attempting to locate parking in the maze still got stranded, and one SUV earned furious horns when it slipped in via the exit to escape traffic.

Mr. Collins has suggested extending his drive-through to accommodate more customers, but some neighbors are concerned that this would just attract more chowhounds.

Mike Hamilton, an engineer who lives close, is unconcerned about the drive-through.

Mr. Hamilton commented, while bringing out two pepperoni pizzas from Rusty’s Pizza next door, “A lot of folks here are retired and don’t have much else to do.” “Because this is a tiny community, simple things anger people.”


In November 2020, people waited in their vehicles for hours at a newly opened In-N-Out in Aurora, Colorado.

Drone base photo courtesy of Reuters

Christine Mai-Duc can be reached at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Chick-fil-a is a fast food restaurant that has been around since the 1930s. The menu includes chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, and milkshakes. It also offers salads, breakfast sandwiches, and desserts. Reference: chick-fil-a menu.

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