‘Go Irish, eat chicken’: New Chick-fil-A location opens in Duncan Student Center
Evan McKenna | Friday, February 11, 2022
Among the usual hubbub of Duncan Student Center on Thursday morning were a new crowd, new sights and new smells.
Notre Dame Campus Dining celebrated the grand opening of the new on-campus Chick-fil-A location Thursday at 10 a.m., serving the first of many chicken sandwiches and nuggets to students. Campus Dining staff and executives were present to welcome community members and show them how the new location operates.
The new restaurant is located on the southern end of the first floor in Duncan Student Center, in what was formerly the Star Ginger location.
Despite the space’s familiar look, the location’s operations differ from standard Chick-fil-A locations in a few ways. To accommodate the schedules of student employees and staff, the location will not open until 10 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Like any other Chick-fil-A location, though, the new on-campus restaurant will be closed on Sundays.
Additionally, because the new restaurant is considered more of an “express location” rather than a full, standalone operation, the location has a limited menu, with no breakfast options or mac and cheese.
Despite these current limitations, director of retail dining Sandra Garcia said Campus Dining has plans to implement breakfast offerings and offer longer hours in the future.
“I think for now, we wanted to make sure that whatever we do, we do it well,” Garcia said. “We want to focus on that core part of the menu, which is obviously the chicken sandwiches, the nuggets and fries, among some other options. We have the infrastructure to add breakfast items… but we thought we’d start with the core and then eventually consider expanding.”
Students can order their Chick-fil-A in person at Duncan Student Center or through the Grubhub app — but Grubhub ordering looks a bit different.
The first steps of the Grubhub ordering process are identical to those of other on-campus restaurants, but pickup at Chick-fil-A works differently. Because Chick-fil-A’s business model places such emphasis on the value of serving food hot, students’ food will not start being prepared until they “check in” inside the Duncan Student Center.
Students can check in at any of the Grubhub check-in stations, located in a variety of locations across the first floor of Duncan. After opening the “order status” screen and tapping their smartphone to the sign, Chick-fil-A will process and begin preparing the order.
The location’s grand opening marked the culmination of years of work from Campus Dining, according to Garcia. The process began in early 2020, when Campus Dining partnered with consultancy Envision Strategies to identify gaps in the University’s retail dining system. The group performed a deep dive into the University’s current dining offerings and collected input from a variety of focus groups, including faculty, staff, student-athletes and key stakeholders.
“It was very clear through that process that there was a high demand and desire for a Chick-fil-A on campus,” Garcia said.
Campus Dining’s decision to bring Chick-fil-A to campus was made in consideration of a variety of factors, Garcia said, including high demand from key campus figures and the restaurant’s ability to bring unique options to the University’s retail dining experience.
Garcia also said Campus Dining valued the chain’s highly efficient business model, calling the famously fast system “built for volume.”
“And with that volume comes our ability to return more dollars to the University, which are then primarily used for scholarships and other needs,” she said. “Which is a big part of why we exist, other than feeding the students, is to be able to contribute to the University’s mission, which we thought Chick-fil-A could help.”
Chick-fil-A is notorious for its long drive-thru lines, driven by high demand nationwide. The same high demand seems to exist on Notre Dame’s campus. Although the restaurant might be busier than usual in its first few weeks of operation, Campus Dining senior director Luigi Alberganti said he is confident students will not have to wait too long to receive their food.
“Probably, we’re going to see slightly larger wait times,” Alberganti said. “However, I like to mention that Chick-fil-A is built for volume; they’re the experts of that. As a matter of fact, right now, just opening … if you come and eat, it’s probably going to be a five-minute wait.”
Campus Dining associate director of retail Richard Jacobs echoed Alberganti’s thoughts, saying he expects the mobile ordering system to help decrease wait times.
“With the tap-in technology, we’re hoping to mitigate [the long lines] somewhat,” Jacobs said. “We expect to be very busy, just as Modern Market is, and there will be high queues at times. But very similar to the way Modern Market behaves, when the queue is high it should give you a promised time, and we expect to beat that.”
Thursday’s opening comes in the wake of much anticipation and controversy, marking an end to the new location’s long and troubled backstory.
Notre Dame students have publicly petitioned for a Chick-fil-A location long before any official confirmation from the University, with promises of bringing the restaurant to campus or Eddy Street appearing in past student body president campaign platforms.
In 2018, in response to growing student interest, Campus Dining announced that Chick-fil-A “did not fit” in the current portfolio of the University’s restaurants.
And just months before Campus Dining’s official announcement of an on-campus Chick-fil-A, students implored the University to open the restaurant via the @ndneedschickfila Instagram account.
But on May 12, 2021, rumors of an on-campus location spread among the student body after Chick-fil-A’s official website listed a franchise in Duncan Student Center. Campus Dining responded to the chatter, clarifying that the University did not have an agreement with the restaurant and was currently considering “a variety of future restaurant options.”
Student-led campaigns responded both in support and criticism of the potential addition. Many students opposed the potential opening, citing the restaurant chain’s history of donations to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations and a lack of options for vegan and vegetarian students. Other groups continued to advocate for an on-campus location, arguing the chain’s Christian mission aligns closely with the Catholic values of the University.
One Letter to the Editor published in The Observer entitled “Keep Chick-fil-A away” garnered national attention after Fox News reported on the controversy and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham commented on the issue via Twitter.
“It’s disappointing to hear some ND students and faculty want to ban Chick-fil-A from doing business on campus because they disagree with the values held by the Chick-fil-A founders,” Graham wrote. “What a dangerous precedent to set.”
It’s disappointing to hear some ND students and faculty want to ban Chick-fil-A from doing business on campus because they disagree with the values held by the Chick-fil-A founders.
What a dangerous precedent to set.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 14, 2021
Alberganti commented on the University’s positioning within the controversy, noting that the decision was made with large amounts of consultation and careful consideration.
“The University wouldn’t engage in anything that goes against the principles of Notre Dame,” Alberganti said. “We feel comfortable that the partnership is going to be successful … It wasn’t a decision that Notre Dame made by itself. We did all the vetting that needed to be done. We consulted with third parties, and they engaged with the student population and asked the questions. And it was an overwhelming majority: Over 90% of the students were supportive of having [Chick-fil-A] on campus.”
Official confirmation of the on-campus location came on July 15, with the University’s announcement of Campus Dining’s “Retail Dining Master Plan,” including Chick-fil-A, the Noodle Nook in LaFortune Student Center and a variety of enhanced plant-based options.
Niko Tomc, a sophomore in Fisher Hall and the founder of @ndneedschickfila, was one of the first in line Thursday morning. The Chick-fil-A staff gifted him the grand opening sign to commemorate his role in the location’s establishment.
“It was just cool, how many people wanted it, and I’m really grateful the University listened to us,” Tomc said. “I’ve always said dining is a big deal. People don’t think about it much, but good food goes a long way.”
As the leader of the student movement to bring Chick-fil-A to Notre Dame’s campus, Tomc said he understands the concerns of the opposing side, but he is glad Notre Dame made the decision they did.
“They had their concerns, and I understand, but I just want a chicken sandwich,” he said. “I don’t agree with everything that some of the other restaurants on campus stand for, but I’m still going to take their food if it’s good food. And again, they don’t have to eat it. I’m just glad that enough people wanted it that it came. I knew there was opposition, but clearly, more people wanted it, so I’m just glad that it’s here.”
Alesis Juntunen, a senior in Welsh Family Hall and another of the new location’s first patrons, said the agreement between Notre Dame and Chick-fil-A is a “historic thing.”
“It was a big deal for Chick-fil-A and [Campus Dining] to be able to agree on how this location would be run, because they’re both very particular about how they do things,” Juntunen said. “It’s just awesome to see everyone so happy. I really do feel like this has been a bright thing on this February day. People care about dining, and I think we especially learned that from last year, whenever we were eating outside in tents.”
Alberganti expressed his gratitude for the students, faculty and staff involved in making the on-campus Chick-fil-A location a reality.
“I thank you for all the patience and support from everybody,” he said. “I’m extremely happy. I look forward to seeing all the students giving it a try.”