After years of clamoring for a Chick-fil-A restaurant of their own, Western New Yorkers got their wish in November when the region's first store opened on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga.
Local franchisee Cassie Sheedy was the one to bring it to them.
Sheedy, a mother of three, is a St. Bonaventure graduate who grew up on a cattle farm in Arcade. After graduating, she got married and ended up moving with her husband's job nine times in 10 years, all while working as a pharmaceutical sales rep and raising three children (all three were born in different states). She beat out the tens of thousands of applicants that vie for a Chick-fil-A franchise each year.
This is how she did it, and why.
Q: How did you end up with Chick-fil-A?
A: I was attempting to climb the corporate ladder and with all of our relocations, it was difficult to gain traction. When we were living in Oklahoma, there was a cow handing out chicken sandwiches at the end of a 5K and I thought that was really funny. A cow handing out chicken? That's funny! So I had to learn more.
I ate at the restaurant just about every day from that point forward and applied just about right away to get my own franchise.
I didn't know enough about Chick-fil-A then. I figured by Christmas of 2012 I would have a store. Sure enough it took many, many years for them to entertain me. I like to think it was because they weren't really looking at the Western New York market at the time. But the truth is I think it was more that I needed to learn more.
Q: You were applying for Western New York even when you were in Oklahoma?
A: Yes. And I was rejected in the interview process. I made it to the second interview of what I learned was an 11-step process that typically takes years and they said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
We relocated yet again and I found an operator in Philadelphia who took me on and he became my mentor. I continued with my sales career but I worked with him as a training director Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings. The biggest part of this brand is the quality of food, the consistency and the hospitality. He wanted help in pulling through all three in a training plan that was measurable.
He taught me to really invest in [Chick-fil-A corporate owners] the Cathy family. That would've been 2014 through 2016. I reapplied in 2016 and I was selected for my own store in October 2017.
Q: What was that process like?
A: It's an emotional roller coaster. From the very first time that you submit a form of interest, it's then six weeks before they get back to you. Then they say, "Oh, we want to learn more."
So the second wave is an essay. The first time I applied it took me three hours to do the essay portion. The second time I applied, it took three days.
It was an 11-step process and the last three they included Kevin, my spouse. And they interviewed eight references. They like to read the fine print, is what I'll say. And they sent me away for six weeks to Atlanta, and then to another store in Indiana to learn the specifics.
Q: Most owners have only one location. Will you?
A: For now. There's a second one opening [at Transit and Losson roads], and that's not going to be me.
After I've been here a few years is when they'll start to open a conversation about a possible second one. It's earned.
It's a goal of mine but definitely I have to do this one right first. So we have to perfect the chicken and nail that hospitality that Chick-fil-A is known for.
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Q: I'm sure that starts with the hiring process. How do you know someone's going to be good with customer service?
A: I look for, I guess, a natural kindness. Somebody who naturally smiles and is engaging. Somebody who's curious about other people because that's going to be that kindness that shines through as they serve the customers.
It's that service mentality where they can just naturally recognize somebody who needs an extra hand, who needs to grab a high chair for somebody or carry a tray of food for somebody because maybe they're using a walker.
Q: Were you aware of the campaigns to bring Chick-fil-A to Buffalo?
A: I just loved the brand and I figured if I loved the brand coming from Western New York, surely I wouldn't be the only one. Then as I applied for the franchise in 2016, I found a Facebook page devoted to bringing Chick-fil-A to Buffalo.
I didn't participate but I watched it and I read. I was like, "OK, the demand is there." And I watched the Cicero store open big and I watched the Greece store open big and I thought, "Buffalo is a bigger market. What is this going to look like?"
The responsibility I feel to deliver on the first impression of the brand, that keeps me up at night. I'll tell you that's the one thing that has been a huge focus of mine is getting it right because I am so proud of this brand.
They've given me a huge opportunity by allowing me to be the steward here in Western New York and I want to do right by them.