The Chicken Connoisseur: The Early Years of Chick-fil-A’s S. Truett Cathy

At a time when the hamburger was dominating America's fast food industry, a young Samuel Truett Cathy had a different idea: why not a chicken sandwich? With that, in 1946, Cathy launched a restaurant called Dwarf Grill, which would in time morph into the Chick-fil-A chain of over 1,500 quick service restaurants that specializes in chicken dinners, and has become something of a cultural icon in the southern U.S. Cathy was born on March 14, 1921 in Eatonton, Georgia. His family was a religious one, naming him Samuel after a pastor friend, and Truett after a famous Baptist evangelist, George Truett. Cathy's father was a farmer, but after his cotton fields were attacked by beetles, he moved the family to Atlanta and began working as an insurance salesman.

Life in the 1930s was not easy for the Cathy family. Insurance was failing to pay the bills, so they began renting out rooms in their house, providing a bed and two meals to guests for a dollar a day. At any given time, there would be as many as 8 guests in the Cathy house. That, on top of Cathy's two brothers, four sisters, and parents.

"Growing up in a boarding house introduced me to hard work and taught me the value of diligent labor," recalls Cathy looking back on his childhood. "I learned to shuck corn, shell peas, wash dirty dishes, set the table, shop for my mother at the corner grocery store and even flip eggs and pancakes on the grill."

By the time he was eight years old, Cathy was already an entrepreneur, chipping in where he could to help support his family. He began buying six-packs of Coca Cola for 25 cents and selling the individual bottles door to door for five cents each.

Such was his success that Cathy followed it by opening a soft drink stand in his front yard. From there, he moved on to selling magazines door to door, and, from 1933 to 1941, he worked as a newspaper delivery boy. He bought his papers at wholesale prices, and sold them at retail rates, energized by the chance to make a profit.

"My success with the paper route convinced me that I would one day open a business of my own, most likely a service station, grocery store or restaurant," Cathy recalls.

Then, in high school, Cathy had another experienced that would further convince him he was on the right track. He took an elective course called "Everyday Living," in which he was introduced to Napoleon Hill's book, "Think and Grow Rich."

"I wasn't all that bright. I had difficulty keeping up in class and I had always carried with me a bit of an inferiority complex regarding socializing at school and I never felt confident about dating girls," he says. "But I enjoyed my work and I enjoyed the rewards of working. As I read Mr. Hill's book, I realized I could do anything if I wanted it badly enough. His words motivated me and showed me that I live in a do-it-yourself world."

After graduating, Cathy worked first for the U.S. Civil Service, repairing equipment for the Army, and was next drafted by the Army in a clerical position. Before being shipped out to join the fighting in the South Pacific, Cathy developed a skin allergy which led to his honourable discharge in 1945.

He was then left with a decision of what to do next.

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