By Chris B. Bennett
You often hear me talking about the need to support Black businesses, and that is a cause that I will continue to champion until the end of days. I’m a firm believer that we need to support our own businesses/organizations in order for our community to grow. If we don’t do it, then who will?
One Black owned business that deserves the support of our community is Chick-Fil-A in Bellevue. Yes, Chick-Fil-A in Bellevue. The owner, who is African American, is a hard-working family woman, who relocated her family to Seattle in order to pursue the dream of being an entrepreneur. The endeavor, by most accounts, has been successful. So successful that the popularity of her restaurant has produced problems that most business owners wish they had. However, one should be careful of what they wish for. Despite providing nearly 100 jobs and an economic boost to the area, the Bellevue Chick-Fil-A has been the recipient of unfavorable media attention. Attention that I believe is unwarranted and unfair.
The first issue that Chick-Fil-A had to deal with was the traffic congestion caused by the carloads of people waiting to get into the parking lot and drive-thru in order to patronize the business. People not only complained about traffic being backed up onto the off-ramp of I-405, but neighboring businesses also complained because people were using their parking lots and walking over to Chick-Fil-A for a meal. The traffic jams and continued media reports eventually led to a growing, and unwarranted, animosity towards Chick-Fil-A by some residents who live in the area. This chatter was further fueled by people, who chimed in via social media, some of whom rarely, if ever, frequent Bellevue – let alone Chick-Fil-A.
The traffic issue is not the fault of the owner, who has worked very hard to address the problem. In addition to working with city officials, and neighboring businesses, the owner of Chick-Fil-A Bellevue has employed the services of the Washington State Patrol to help control traffic in and out of the facility, secured parking stalls from the hotel next door, and is scheduled to reconstruct the parking lot to assist with better traffic flow.
The City of Bellevue is equally at fault for the traffic issue, because someone within the city government had to approve the site plans for Chick-Fil-A – which should have taken into account potential traffic problems before the building permits were issued in the first place. No one could have anticipated the ongoing popularity of Chick-Fil-A lasting this long, but the fact remains that somebody either dropped the ball or thought very little about the establishment and the crowds it would attract.
The latest attack on Chick-Fil-A Bellevue has to do with a recent King County food inspection where the restaurant received an “unsatisfactory” report. I’m not going to defend the restaurant for the violations that were recorded. But a couple of things do concern me about the media reports surrounding this issue. Number one, it’s not uncommon for a restaurant to receive an unsatisfactory report, but the headlines from local media outlets that made specific reference to Chick-Fil-A receiving an unsatisfactory report are not common. Such headlines can be a death sentence to a restaurant, and should not be thrown about so loosely. In the case of Chick-Fil-A, they received three violations (two critical equaling 50 points) and an overall score of 55. A quick glance of the County’s online records for restaurant inspections shows that Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, and McDonald’s in the same zip code as Chick-Fil-A have all, in the past, received unsatisfactory inspection reports. In addition, a neighboring coffee shop, grocery store deli, and donut shop have all received unsatisfactory reports since 2014. But these “negative” reports, regardless of the number of violations or overall scores, did not receive the headlines like that of Chick-Fil-A.
According to the Public Health – Seattle King County (PHSKC) website, critical violations are those that present the highest risk of causing food borne disease. One critical violation equals an unsatisfactory inspection. In addition, 35 or more critical violation points require a re-inspection within 14 days. Ninety or more critical violation points require the establishment be closed. It should also be noted that there are other non-critical violations relating to the maintenance and cleanliness of an establishment that also factor into the overall score.
What should be even more concerning to our community is the fact that the inspection in question took place on July 15, and news outlets started broadcasting the results well before health department officials returned for a re-inspection. Chick-Fil-A was persecuted in the media before they even got a chance to show that the issues had been addressed, corrected, and reported to the public via PHSKC’s website.
The way this story was handled does not appear to be a common practice in the media.
For instance, according to published PHSKC reports, a very popular seafood restaurant in the same zip code received unsatisfactory scores of 75 in May 2014, 65 in December 2014 and 100 in May 2015. Yet, I don’t recall this establishment being called out in the media.
Furthermore, a very popular Asian restaurant, in the same zip code received an unsatisfactory score of 70 in April of 2015. According to PHSKC reports, this does not appear to be an isolated occurrence as the restaurant has a documented history of scores over 60 dating back to 2011 — including scores of 98 and 75 during routine inspections in 2014.
In addition, this same restaurant received an unsatisfactory grade of 83 in 2013. A re-inspection produced a result of 65, and two subsequent re-inspections both produced results of 85 before they finally were able to get a score of 10 in a re-inspection.
“Man Down! Stop Drop And Roll Cause Your Tummy Aches!” These are the types of headlines you would expect, if these restaurants were given the same treatment as Chik-Fil-A. But I don’t recall hearing about that. Have you? I doubt it.
In my opinion, Chick-Fil-A in Bellevue deserves better. They deserve the same courtesy as other restaurants in the area, not a high-tech lynching. The owner has a strong and sincere focus on customer service and customer experience and it shows. It appears that the owner has a recipe for success that is working, because people keep coming back day-after-day. It’s a recipe that those who choose to cast a dark cloud over Chick-Fil-A probably would not like even if it were the same exact recipe that their grandmother used to prepare their favorite dish at home.
Through the eyes of an ink barrel, may peace be unto you!