S. Truett Cathy, known as the billionaire owner and founder of Chick-fil-A, died early this morning at the age of 93 in his home, surrounded by family members.
Cathy — the founding father of what soon became one of the largest chain chicken restaurants in America — was born into poverty, and got his start in the restaurant business by opening a small, post-war diner in the suburbs of Atlanta. By the time the 1960s rolled around, the restaurant was re-branded and franchised as a Southern chicken restaurant known as Chick-fil-A, selling its trademark chicken sandwich. Now, Chick-fil-A has 1,800 restaurant locations nationwide, and reports more than $5 billion in profits annually.
Cathy, unlike many other chain restaurant founders, was involved in his restaurants’ operations well into his 80s, and refused to retire until the very end.
"There's really no secret for success," he said after his memoir was published in 2007. "I hope it will open eyes for people. They don't have to follow my recipe but this is what works for me."
But Cathy’s business success was not without controversy. Chick-fil-A, as well as its owner, was known for right-wing political leanings. In 2012, Cathy’s son, Dan, who is currently the chain’s president, said that they were “guilty as charged for supporting the biblical definition of family.” This led to liberal and gay rights groups boycotting the restaurant, and companies like Jim Henson’s pulling their happy meal toys from Chick-fil-A.
Cathy is survived by his wife, Jeannette, three children, 19 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.
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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi