Five years ago, Chick-fil-A was involved in a major controversy over statements made by the fast-food company that many felt were hostile to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Now St. Louis Park residents are urging a Chick-fil-A franchise proposed at the Shoppes at Knollwood to operate in a different way.
“We just want to make sure that Chick-fil-A was put on notice that we will be monitoring their activities,” said Zaylore Stout, a labor and employment law attorney.
Stout is a member of Allies of St. Louis Park, a Facebook group that aims to support minorities and underrepresented groups. The group has made several requests of the franchise, including that it consider installing gender-neutral bathrooms at the new location.
“It’s such an easy thing that can be done to show support for the gay and transgender community,” group founder Susan Niz said.
Chick-fil-A recently proposed to redevelop an empty TCF Bank branch on the southeast corner of the Knollwood property, off Hwy. 7 and Texas Avenue. The city’s planning commission, which makes recommendations based on zoning, approved the proposal during a hearing on March 8. The City Council is expected to consider the application at its April 3 meeting.
If approved, the Chick-fil-A franchise would be the first in St. Louis Park and one of more than a dozen in Minnesota. The Eagan City Council approved a Chick-fil-A development proposal on March 7.
At the St. Louis Park planning commission hearing, Niz, Stout and other residents asked for reassurance that the franchise’s employment practices would be transparent and free from discrimination.
Officials with Chick-fil-A did not respond to the group’s demands in a request for comment.
“We are always evaluating potential new locations in the hopes of serving existing and new customers great food with remarkable service,” a spokesperson wrote in an e-mail message. “While we hope to serve the St. Louis Park community, there’s nothing to communicate at this time.”
In 2012, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy publicly opposed same-sex marriage. His statements, along with reports that the company’s charity donated millions to groups seen as anti-LGBT, prompted movements to both boycott and support the restaurant. Chick-fil-A sales increased following the controversy.
The company sought policy changes to distance itself from the topic of same-sex marriage and said it would treat any person equally regardless of their beliefs. But Stout, who is gay, said its history made that pledge difficult to trust.
“I’m still concerned in regards to some of the organization’s employment practices as it relates to individuals who are not Christian,” he said.
St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano said the council wouldn’t deny a proposal on the basis of the beliefs of a company’s owners. But he commended residents for raising their concerns.
“People vote with their feet,” Spano said. “If they don’t support that organization, they don’t have to shop there.”
Most planning commission members agreed with the comments made by the Allies group at the hearing.
“Chick-fil-A could have a very successful franchise here in St. Louis Park, but it’ll never be fully embraced unless they do ... all of the things that are laid out by the Allies,” Planning Commissioner Joe Tatalovich said.
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753