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Published: Saturday, 5/19/2001

Neighborhood stands in line to greet new fast-food eatery

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A customer, with his chicken in hand, leaves the Church's restaurant while a line of customers snakes its way through the drive-through. A customer, with his chicken in hand, leaves the Church's restaurant while a line of customers snakes its way through the drive-through.
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For James Britton, yesterday's one-hour wait was nothing.

After all, he's been waiting for seven years - since moving from Detroit - for Church's Chicken to open a restaurant in Toledo.

They finally did Monday, in the Bancroft-Franklin Plaza at Bancroft Street and Franklin Avenue in the Warren-Sherman area.

It's been “Churchickenmania” ever since.

The river of vehicles flooding the restaurant's drive-through lane has, at times, tied up traffic. And inside, customers have waited up to 3 1/2 hours for crispy, crunchy chicken.

Joseph Fury, right, considers his options for his order inside Church's Chicken at Bancroft and Franklin after a wait of about two hours. Waiting to take his order is employee Alyssa Webb. Joseph Fury, right, considers his options for his order inside Church's Chicken at Bancroft and Franklin after a wait of about two hours. Waiting to take his order is employee Alyssa Webb.
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But there's a greater impact too - some much-needed attention and a quickened pace of life in the area just northwest of downtown Toledo.

“I think it's beautiful,” Mr. Britton said. “You have the Church's opening here. You have Farmer Jack's building down the street. These businesses are finally starting to return to the people.”

“When I heard about the [Church's] opening up here, I thought it was great,” he added.

So, apparently, do many other people, because Church's has become the buzz of the community.

“I'm here for four reasons,” said Nancy Glover as the line of customers moved slowly toward the counter. “I love Church's Chicken, it's close to my job, I don't have to waste gas driving to Monroe to get it, and I wanted to patronize a business in our community.

“They built this in the heart of the neighborhood and the neighborhood is responding,” she said

The last Toledo Church's restaurant closed in 1988.

The new one has served nearly 2,000 customers since it opened, according to Paul Hubbard, the city's former neighborhood director who is one of the owners.

Anderson Hewitt, a Church's business consultant who flew in from the company's headquarters in Atlanta to assist with the opening, said the restaurant's start has been one of the most unusual in the country.

“We've had lines like this for other openings,” Mr. Hewitt said. “At other openings, people would make two orders for two-piece dinners. Here, they are making two orders for 20-piece boxes.”

Trent Shaw, an operations specialist for Church's in Chicago who came in to assist, said the constant lines have been a challenge for the staff.

“In normal openings, you have the lunch crowd and then you would get a break,” Mr. Shaw said. “Since Monday, we haven't had those breaks to catch up.

“The staff is in good spirit, though, and the customers have been great. They stand in line for a long time, and they've been patient,” he said.

Some pass the time discussing Church's restaurants in Monroe and Detroit they had been patronizing.

Mr. Britton admitted that he would drive back to the Motor City on a regular basis to buy chicken “for everyone.”

Catherine King said: “I could have driven to Monroe and back by this time, but it's the fact that it's here.”

“There's a line in Monroe now because everyone else had the same idea of driving there,” Neal Abernathy said. “I think this Church's has helped their business this week.”

“I'm just a chicken warrior” Liz Parker said. “This is my day off so I'll be here until I get my chicken.”

Added Connie Thomas: “I like the chicken a lot better here. If I had that secret recipe, I would stay home and cook it myself.”

Bobby Clay, who works at Jeep, said “everything will be OK when I get my order, because my stomach is rumbling. I'm from Tampa where we had Church's when I was growing up. It's worth the wait.”

Mr. Hubbard said the crush has required restaurant employees to make at least two trips daily to Church's restaurants in Detroit to replenish dwindling supplies. “That's with our regular shipments still coming in.

“We're now planning a third shift and an express lane for people just ordering two-piece and three-piece dinners,” Mr. Hubbard said.

John McGown, vice president of franchise support at Church's headquarters in Atlanta, said that Toledo's one-week opening was among the strongest starts this year of any Church's in the country. “This confirms what we have thought. We think this will be a good market for Church's and our product was something that was in demand.”

“Sometimes Toledoans are their own worst enemies,” Mr. Hubbard said. “When we started building houses [in the Warren-Sherman area], they said people will never buy new homes in this area. Now there's a waiting list for them.”



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