Of all America's fast food titans, Chick Fil-A seems like the least likely candidate for becoming a hipster hotspot. The chain's president Dan Cathy set off a media firestorm in 2012, when he admitted that he was opposed to gay rights. Cathy has since backtracked a little -- but even setting aside that issue, Chick Fil-A remains committed to a Christian ethos. The chain, for example, refuses to open up on Sundays, in honor of the sabbath. That's something you don't often see in Wicker Park, Bushwick or Oakland.
Yet there are signs that hipsterdom is invading Chick Fil-A, or perhaps that Chick Fil-A is invading hipsterdom. At least the food-loving wing of hipsterdom.
The chain announced this week that it was testing out two new menu items that include uber-hipster ingredients kale and bacon in six markets. Kale is the centerpiece of a new 80-calorie "Superfood Salad" that also includes broccolini and a maple vinaigrette, while bacon can be found on the chain's new Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Sandwich, which also features grilled chicken and cheese. The six test markets will also get a new stuffed baked potato, which is really more normcore than hipster. If the test goes well in these six markets, Chick Fil-A might bring these new menu items to its approximately 2,000 locations across the country.
It's hard to know what to make of this. Maybe it's a sign that ingredients like kale and bacon no longer belong to the hipsters: They've gone mainstream. That's consistent, certainly, with McDonald's experimentation with kale.
But perhaps this move is a sign of Chick Fil-A's lofty ambitions. The chain has seen startling sales growth for years -- growth that didn't slow at all in the wake of Cathy's offensive comments on gay rights. Last year, Chick Fil-A passed KFC to become the biggest chicken chain in the country, and it's clear that they aim to continue growing.
As the chain expands outside its home base in the South, it comes in contact with more and more people who don't share its religious values, some of whom have actively resisted the chain's expansion. Maybe these new menu items -- and actions like donating sandwiches to an LGBT pride parade in Iowa -- represent Chick Fil-A's efforts to ingratiate itself with more liberal -- even hipster -- customers.
It seems to be working. This week, David Chang opened a fast-food restaurant in Manhattan's East Village called Fuku that serves a fried chicken sandwich that Chang said (at SXSW!) was directly inspired by the sandwiches at Chick Fil-A. And back in April, "Top Chef" alum Kevin Gillespie, who rocks a pretty stereotypical hipster beard, started serving a fried chicken sandwich that paid homage to Chick Fil-A at his restaurant Gunshow in Atlanta, Georgia..
To be sure, the popularity of the fried chicken sandwiches from Chang and Gillespie may to some extent be a sign that hip customers want to be able to get the Chick Fil-A flavor without underwriting the Chick Fil-A worldview. But it's possible that once people get a taste of those sandwiches, they'll be tempted to put aside their political qualms and visit the original place. And once they're inside, the kale salads and bacon sandwiches might just convince them to stay.
CORRECTION: The original version of this post stated, mistakenly, that the restaurant Gunshow is located in Portland, Oregon. Though chef Kevin Gillespie once lived in Portland, his restaurant is located in Atlanta, Georgia.