It was a big day in Hernando County last Thursday. Hernando County residents have had to endure roughly three months of cravings. Some have had it worse than others, experiencing frequent awakenings in the middle of the night in a sweat of starvation after realizing that the crispy chicken on a buttery biscuit covered in a honey mustard sauce, with hot waffle fries was but a cruel midnight reverie.
Thankfully, early Thursday morning, Hernando County’s Chick-fil-A reopened for business after the completion of a substantial renovation project. The cravings and midnight visions of Chick-fil-A sandwiches can finally be alleviated for thousands across the county.
And hopefully, it was worth the wait as the many improvements usher the restaurant into their next phase of service to Hernando County since opening its doors twenty years ago.
The restaurant’s kitchen was expanded to improve employee experience and increase food preparation capacity.
The drive-thru lanes were also expanded to accommodate more cars in the queue, with two order lanes going into two delivery lanes.
“If things work as they are supposed to, the idea is that you just keep moving through the drive-thru to have two delivery lanes,” the establishment’s proprietor John Mitten explained. There is also a door in the drive-thru so that they no longer hand the food through a window to the customer. Staff members bring the orders directly to cars in the queue.
When you enter the restaurant, you’ll notice that there is less seating area, this is because they expanded the drive-thru cockpit in order to serve customers more efficiently. They added an outdoor seating patio so customers can enjoy some fresh air.
To address safety issues, the lanes were rerouted around the outside of the parking lot so that patrons no longer have to walk through the drive-thru lanes to enter the restaurant. Additionally, the new lanes are entirely under canopies to provide drive-thru employees with some much-needed protection from the rain and hot Florida sun.
“Ultimately, for my staff, I’m so excited for their workplace environment as a significant upgrade,” said Mitten.
There are currently 90 staff members that have returned to the restaurant and 40 new employees. There were just under 120 staff members prior to the restaurant closing for renovation. During the renovation, staff worked in other area stores and participated in nationwide grand openings. “They got to work for corporate in the same type of equipment and configuration,” Mitten said. They are now training the new employees on that equipment. He mentioned they may be hiring more employees depending on the support they receive from the community.
There are now crosswalks and a handicap-accessible ramp to the mall parking lot for overflow parking.
Mitten was keen on keeping their children’s play zone, and now it is a bright and welcoming spot for kids to burn some energy behind floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Mitten said, “Many chains have removed playgrounds because of the difficulties around liability. I love my playground. Here’s what I love about my playground, “When families walk through those entry doors,( while) the parents look at the line, the kids turn to the playground, and their faces light up.” Mitten said moms can eat some great Chick-fil-a food and enjoy the ambiance while their children play in a safe environment.
There was a large community turnout for the grand re-opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday. Cadets from Central High School’s Naval Junior ROTC program conducted a flag-raising ceremony while Dell Barnes played the National Anthem on his saxophone. The cadets also took drone footage of the event.
First and foremost, Mitten gave credit to his wife, Kris. “All this that you see, none of it would have ever happened without this amazing lady.”
He said it was also special that his parents, John and Shirley, and his thirteen-year-old daughter Evelyn were there to celebrate the grand re-opening.
Mitten remarked that Thursday’s ceremony was reminiscent of their grand opening ceremony 20 years ago. He highlighted the Chamber of Commerce’s continuous support then and through to the present day. “So 20 years ago, the chamber reached out immediately, Pat Crowley, who was doing membership at the time… absolutely embraced us, and so we’re grateful to the chamber and all they do.”
He recognized the organizations that contributed to the project, including Stanfield Construction out of Pasco County.
“They do a lot of Chick-fil-As. They got to do this one, and we are so grateful,” he said.
He recognized “the people on the ground who actually did all of the dirty work,” Matt Nix and Dean Conley, and “the brains” behind the project, Chad from JLL.
Mitten said, “Something I fell in love with 37 years ago, the corporate purpose, is to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that’s entrusted to us and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
He took a moment to honor some of his long-time staff members who have been devoted to this corporate purpose, including Dan Doyle, the general manager.
Doyle attended the original grand opening as a team member when he was still in high school. He earned an MBA at Saint Leo and does a lot of talent development for the restaurant. He and his wife Elizabeth met at the Brooksville Chick-fil-A, and they have three beautiful daughters.
“It’s really awesome; it’s really neat for him to still be here,” Mitten said.
“We try to hire top talent, develop and grow them, launch them into careers as professionals, or convince them to stay with us a little while longer and launch others.
“And so we’ve been honored to be able to work with many of your children and many of your… siblings throughout the years. As we look forward to the next 20 years, it’s because of each one of you in this community that has embraced us. And desired to team with us to serve the community.
“Whether it’s Ridge Manor to Hernando Beach, Royal Highlands to County Line, this is our county together. And we’re so very honored and grateful to be able to serve you each and every day. Throughout the school system, throughout the government, working throughout the chamber, the different business communities, we want to make sure that our corporate purpose is realized in every drink, in every meal, and every ‘my pleasure’ that you experience in our store and in our catering throughout the county.”
The Mitten family’s pastor Richard Rossiter led the group in a prayer dedication for the building. He concluded the prayer with, “Lord, I pray that you continue to help the staff and the leadership glorify you and to be a help to this community… And Lord, we love to hear them say, ‘My pleasure’… May you continue to bless this business for another 20 years and beyond, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Mike Congemi, the chamber membership coordinator, remarked, “On behalf of our chamber of commerce, our board of directors, and our ambassadors that are here, we want to thank you for being a part of our chamber. We are honored to have you and your staff, that are outstanding citizens in this community.”
Chamber of Commerce incoming board chair Christie Williams presented Mitten with a plaque. She said, “As you previously said, hire the heart; you can teach the hands. Congratulations.”
Anna Segovia from Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ office presented Mitten with a Congressional Recognition for the grand reopening. She said, “We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything you do for our community.”
To conclude the ceremony, the ribbon was cut, photos were taken, and cravings were finally satisfied.