Criticism, Investigation, Some Regret After Vote to Oust Chick-fil-A From SA Airport Deal

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Chick-fil-A is located at 1350 Austin Hwy.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A Chick-fil-A restaurant is located at 1350 Austin Hwy.

The San Antonio City Council’s decision last week to remove Chick-fil-A from a multimillion-dollar contract with another company to operate food and retail shops at San Antonio’s airport continues to draw criticism from local business leaders, some elected officials, and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton has called for an investigation into the vote.

“The Constitution’s protection of religious liberty is somehow even better than Chick-fil-A’s chicken,” Paxton wrote in a letter to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “Unfortunately, I have serious concerns that both are under assault at the San Antonio airport.”

The decision made national headlines, and the narrative has become engulfed in rhetoric. A member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights weighed in with a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Wednesday, writing, “I urge the City Council to rescind its ban of Chick-Fil-A. Failing that, I expect Chick-Fil-A will sue the City Council members in their official and personal capacities.”

The mayor responded to a request for comment late Thursday: “The City’s Attorney’s Office is reviewing the letter. I am withholding comment until we have had adequate time to analyze it.”

At the local level, the matter has become a campaign issue with City Council elections just over five weeks away.

The airport concessions agreement requires contractor Paradies Lagardère to drop Chick-fil-A from its proposed list of restaurants.

At least one of the six Council members who voted in favor of ousting Chick-fil-A, Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), says he regrets his vote and wishes Council had more time to consider the contract and research Chick-fil-A’s practices. One developer, who says he works with the Georgia-based fast food restaurant, says they have told him the company is no longer interested in a planned new store.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) introduced the motion to oust Chick-fil-A based on the fast food chain’s association with anti-LGBTQIA groups. “I stand by the decision of the City Council’s vote,” Treviño said Thursday.

On the day of the vote, Pelaez said all airport visitors should feel welcome in San Antonio and not be greeted by a restaurant that many consider to be a “symbol of hate.” He also criticized Chick-fil-A’s policy to close its restaurants on Sundays.

But he said Thursday he now regrets some comments he made during the Council’s discussion last week.

“I did some soul searching. … I was wrong,” Pelaez told the Rivard Report. He said he stands by his comments about wanting more local businesses that are open on Sundays at the San Antonio International Airport. However, comments he made about Chick-fil-A’s discriminatory practices were “rushed” and not based on research, he said.

“I own my own words. Sometimes we’re called upon to swallow them … this time they don’t taste good,” said Pelaez, who faces several challengers on the ballot this year, including Frankie Gonzales-Wolfe, a political consultant and transgender woman. “If I could do it all over again, I would have voted … to delay to B Session” for further discussion and analysis.

Ahead of the final vote, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) asked for a vote to do just that. Council members Art Hall (D2), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Greg Brockhouse (D6) joined Viagran in backing the motion to delay, but the measure failed. Viagran abstained from the final 6-4 vote.

There are at least 30 Chick-fil-A franchises located in San Antonio, all closed on Sundays for “rest and worship.” The Georgia-based company’s CEO is Dan Cathy, whose stated views against same-sex marriage and charitable contributions to anti-gay organizations prompted boycotts and counter-boycotts in 2012.

“We would welcome the opportunity to have a thoughtful dialogue with the city council and we invite all of them into our local stores to interact with the more than 2,000 team members who are serving the people of San Antonio,” said Chick-fil-A in a statement released after the vote. “We hope they will experience for themselves that Chick-fil-A embraces all people, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

On Wednesday, local developer Mark Granados of GFR Development learned from a Chick-fil-A real estate representative that the company has decided it will not open one of its fast-food stores at a site Granados is developing here.

“They told us they’re not doing any more stores in San Antonio – that’s all they said,” said Granados, who has built Chick-fil-A restaurants at other sites in the city. “So I can’t tell you that them not doing our deal or stopping work has anything to do with the council [vote], but we have a proven track record with them, we give them very high performing stores. … They already told us they like the site.”

Chick-fil-A did not respond to questions Thursday seeking confirmation of any plans for future stores.

Granados called the vote against Chick-fil-A a fiasco brought on by city election politics. Among the eight candidates challenging Treviño for his seat is Justin Holley, a local hotelier collecting support from prominent business leaders. Holley is gay.

“Roberto Treviño is seeing all the support Justin Holley is getting and so he throws out this whole LGBT thing to show the LGBT community, which has a big footprint in District 1, ‘I’ve got your back,'” Granados said. “It’s a political move, and the problem is it’s a disaster for everybody else.”

More discussion should have occurred before the vote took place, Holley said on his campaign Facebook page. “This is not the way decisions like this should be made, we CAN do better! This decision sets a bad precedent and discourages other businesses from coming to San Antonio.”

During the council meeting, Treviño cited Chick-fil-A’s “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior” as cause to keep them out of City facilities because “San Antonio is a city full of compassion.”

Treviño also called for the City’s Office of Equity to review such contracts in the future.

San Antonio LGBT Chamber of Commerce had been working on an official statement on the matter, is President Renee Garvens said Thursday. The chamber announced its support of City Council’s decision on Saturday.

“Outside of politics or the moral obligations not to support a Chick-Fil-A in the airport, the appearance of discrimination threatens Texas’ reputation as welcoming for all businesses and families,” the press release reads. “Chick-Fil-A, through their charitable giving, has become a symbol of corporate discrimination.”

The chamber encouraged the City to continue its “unapologetically welcoming” position that promotes economic growth.

“It’s getting a lot of national attention right now and the rhetoric has become very divisive,” Garvens said Thursday, “And we want to make sure we’re representing our members appropriately on this issue.” Click here to download the chamber’s statement.

The fact that San Antonio is in the middle of an election season, she said, “adds another level.”

Brockhouse, who is challenging Nirenberg in the race for mayor, issued an apology letter to Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s CEO.

“You are welcomed in San Antonio!” Brockhouse wrote. “The recent actions of our City Council do not reflect the overwhelming belief in our City that you are a valued business and community partner. In spite of the appearance of this decision, San Antonio is a welcoming City that values diversity, faith, and inclusivity.”

Nirenberg has stood by the process that the City executed to award the concessionaire contract and said before voting that 15 percent of the airport’s revenue is generated on Sundays.

The San Antonio Restaurant Association sent a letter to Nirenberg and City Council on Thursday calling the City’s contract review process flawed. The letter was co-signed by leaders of the San Antonio Tourism Council, San Antonio Hotel & Lodging Association, San Antonio River Walk Association, and National Association of Women Business Owners.

“We strongly argue that the action and subsequent public backlash is indicative of a lack of consistency of said process,” the letter stated. “… The vote last Thursday to make a material change to the proposed bid was outside the RFP requirements. These requirements already include the adherence to the City’s non-discrimination ordinance which protects city contractors and subcontractors against discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among others.”

The associations called on City Council to address the “discrepancies in the consistency and integrity of your decision-making process.”

Some of those opposed to the Council’s action said consumers – not elected officials – should be permitted to decide which businesses they choose to frequent.

“Many people admire the company because they do close on Sundays, saying corporately they take that stance in order to provide their employees a day to rest with their families and worship if they choose,” local Catholic Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller said in a statement. “… Let the marketplace decide, and consumers will select which businesses to support – or not support – with their dollars, as they always do.”

Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said City Council’s decision is another example of “retaliating against individual beliefs and thoughts.”

“… If you can’t stomach someone else’s opinion that’s your prerogative, but your job as an elected [official] is to defend their right to have an opinion – not to pass judgment in the form of retaliation,” he wrote in a statement.

The commissioner, who is the lone Republican on the commissioners court, and his father, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, are often on opposite sides of controversial issues. Not this time, it seems.

“Companies should not be judged by their political views but by their products and services,” Judge Wolff said in a text message. “Chick-fil-A is an excellent company that should have [been] approved.”


56 thoughts on “Criticism, Investigation, Some Regret After Vote to Oust Chick-fil-A From SA Airport Deal

  1. The city made the right call the first time. COSA has standards that private businesses must meet in order to qualify for city contracts, and in the same way if a private business wants to make money off of public spaces the city is right to have standards.

    The only problem with the city’s decision is that it doesn’t go far enough, and the city should strengthen our NDO to include anti-civiil rights advocacy, and then apply it to any contract for city facilities or services, and to any public accommodation operating within the city.

    • What are the “standards” and where are they published? If these are true terms for conducting business with the city, then it shouldn’t have even come to a vote. It would have given the vote a leg to stand on. Just like conducting business with the federal gov’t, what are regulations for the city contracts. Clarity in this area would help the argument one way or the other. I appreciate the Rivard Report excellent coverage.

    • Who are the “anti-gay charitable organizations” Chick-fil-A has donated to? I would like that list. Thank you.

    • I will never visit this pathetic city again despite their great golf courses and entertainment solely because of the pettiness of their leftist idiot politicians.

  2. Given the AG has decided that small government is only good when he agrees with their decision – once again – it seems that the Mayor was wise to cite the “closed on Sunday” aspect of the company. It makes little sense to have a significant retail outlet in a relatively small airport closed on one of the busier days.

    Chick-fil-a is the classic compassionate conservative company – you’re all welcome in our restaurants, but we will use your money to fund groups that try to take away as many of your rights as they can.

    • The San Antonio City Council is making it obvious that if an organization is conservative such as the Republican State Convention or business like Chick- Fil-A they are not welcome in San Antonio. Doesn’t make any difference how successful or how much money and how many jobs theses entities will bring to the area. This city council is all for diversity unless it conflicts with their own petty agenda. A sad commentary on local leadership. So much for the younger generation bringing vitality, new ideas and inclusiveness to our fair city. What a bunch of hypocrites!

    • So your “Classic Compassionate Conservative company” troupe ignores the fact that business owners of all stripes are free to use their money in any legal way they wish, without government oversight. Starbucks, for example, is a proud supporter of planned parenthood, an organization that I firmly believe traffics in death of pre-born individuals. However I do not feel “uncomfortable” when walking past a Starbucks at the airport or anywhere else, I just continue to walk on by and spend my money elsewhere. (I don’t like their coffee, anyway, as I think it tastes burnt not brewed.)

      In today’s era of faux morality where that which was deemed immoral, even evil, a few years ago, suddenly is deemed to be the paragon of virtue means that this kind of social issues warfare by governments at all levels will continue for a very long time.

  3. AG Paxton sure has weird ideas about the most appropriate size of government. I guess Goldipax and the Three tiers of government could let us know exactly how far local control should extend so we know what we’re allowed to legislate for?

  4. I agree fully. But more than that, every city employee should be scrutinized to ensure s/he does not harbor wrong thoughts or feelings.

    It is a good way to meet our environmental goals, incidentally, for in this manner we can keep new businesses from coming to the city and get rid of the kind of folks we don’t want.

    • Sounds kind of 1984-ish with thoughcrimes, don’t you think? If you want to consider your environmental goals, the airport is the number one producer of all forms of pollution: thermal, water, carbon, light and noise. What exactly is being set in motion to force them to start mitigating that pollution? Especially as their suggested expansion plans have all included overtaking the Salado Greenway that tax payers are not even finished paying for and “some form of relocation” for the Salado Creek.

  5. The franchises for restaurants are a money-making venture for any airport. That’s why a few years ago McDonald’s with its $1 menu was replaced by Steak and Shake where nothing costs less than about $7. Having a restaurant closed one day a week, decreases the money that the airport gets, since they get paid a percentage of sales and having no sales one day a week would lower the income from the business. Right now, Raisin’ Canes is open 7 days a week and their menu seems to me to be a bit more expensive than Chick-fil-a’s. It’s just not a wise decision in terms of income or in terms of serving customers to put a restaurant in the airport that will not be open 7 days a week. However, the airport has tried for years to get a restaurant outside of security without success. To fulfill a need that no one else is willing to fill, I’m sure the city would be welcome Chick-fil-a if they were interested in putting a restaurant outside of security. It would still be less than ideal, since it would be closed on Sundays, but it would be better than having no restaurant outside of security.

    • Except that Chick-fil-A brings in more money in 6 days than either one of these do in 7 days. And Chick-fil-A has a healthier menu.

      • Your comment makes me think of something. People are in the airport waiting for their planes, layovers, etc. Other folks not allowed in. Thus, the revenue you speak of is going to be made no matter what, people are spending the money to get something to eat while waiting for their plane not necessarily because a CFA is in the airport. So if CFA is not there, the money will still be made, perhaps distributed more fairly among the existing vendors. Just a thought.

    • So you are saying that if one restaurant is closed on Sunday the airport will lose revenue? So the folks who wanted to eat at Chick-Fil-A are just not going to eat. I don’t think so. They will spend the same amount of money at a different place. The only loss of revenue would be to the restaurant not the airport.

  6. The mayor has been getting some heat in the local paper when he voted for not allowing Chick-fil-A based for business reasons, but that was the right call. Having a business that is unwilling to be open on Sundays is a good reason to exclude them from a 7-day a week city operation, period.

    However, since some of the other council members focused more on social reasons, here we are with another religious rights and cultural wars focus. This isn’t to say the social aspects of the founders are not concerning, but you didn’t have to go there so long as the business itself has not discriminated; you could have kept it a fiscal based decision.

  7. As a gay man, how am I supposed to feel about my councilman, Manny Pelaez? He is for us one second, against us the next. Surely the district can do better.

  8. Had dinner with my niece tonight who told be about the restaurant on Austin Hwy. she loves the food, says a number of employees are special needs folks, and that everyone is super nice.

    She was shocked by the Council’s decision. She’s going away to school in the fall. Told her to find another place to live. Six generations is this town is enough.

  9. To everyone saying Chick-Fil-A being closed on Sunday means less income for the city I think you need to re-examine the facts. Check out this article..

    It points out that Chick-Fil-A stores make far more money per store than any other fast food chain. $4 mil a year in sales compared to 2nd place McDonald’s at $2.7 mil a year.

    Based on these figures I highly doubt the city would lose any money from the airport deal because of them being closed on Sundays. If you continue reading the article it goes into depth on why Chick-Fil-A stores have such a high average. Long story short they have a great business model and closing on Sundays factors greatly into that.

    I also find it amusing that many of the same people arguing for government mandated paid leave and wage increases for fast food workers are the same ones complaining that Chick-Fil-A gives their employees a weekend day off.

    • In case it wasn’t obvious, the airport location can’t use the same models because people can’t just show up at the counter on other days: you’re either in the airport or you’re not. Sunday is one of the busiest days at the airport so it’s a perfectly reasonable argument to say that a company which is open on Sunday might be able to generate more income.

      As to your other point, you realize that part time workers don’t get paid when the store is closed, right?

      • The decision by the mayor and the city council was not based on revenues. Look at the Dallas Love Field food and beverage sales report, page 44 . CFA out produces every other vendor and they are closed on Sundays. This includes Chili’s, Jason’s Deli, two Dunkin Donuts, La Madeline, Moe’s SW Grill, Manchu Wok, Starbucks, and even our beloved Whataburger. This was a purely political decision. The backlash is appropriate.

        • This report is spot on. Numbers don’t lie. The Mayor nor council members that voted against did not do homework or die diligence at all. Based solely on the beliefs of what CF stands for. Amazing the revenue that Dallas Love Field made from sales and rental space. These decisions are hurting the city.

      • You make a good point except for the fact that Chick-Fil-A’s at other airports also outperform their competition in weekly sales. There’s a reason City Staff put Chick-Fil-A in the contract. When Trevino proposed the amendment to remove them he mentioned nothing about the financials. What’s done is done but whatever side of the issue you fall on it’s not wise to let partisanship influence decisions like this. Now San Antonio is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

  10. I Respect Manny for apologizing. I wish more on council had. Those accusations that chick fil a discriminates were wrong. You can’t convict someone without a trial or strong evidence. Are you now a bigot if you donate to churches or religious founded nonprofits? That makes no sense. Chick Fil-A in my experience has the most courteous of employees always refilling drinks and picking up our trays. San Antonio has such nice folks letting politicians do things behind our back and the re-electing them again for being “nice”. We need to speak up more.

    • Manny is just an example of the knee jerk decision making by which the city is run. But it falls on the voters who are just as reactionary they have given us the council and turned our courts over to unqualified persons who know nothing of jurisprudence.

  11. Time for change at city hall. The lack of leadership leave much to be desired. The lack of political courage is also a disgrace. Ctizens approved 2 out of 3 charter amendments because of the lack of trust in local government. We need to continue to clean house in the up coming city council elections.

  12. Dear Lord – now we have the still un-convicted criminal Ken Paxton jumping into the fray hoping to sway another handful of fence-sitting voters with screams of LIBERTY!, JESUS! and vein clogging FRIED CHICKEN! What a world.

  13. The silly council is acting like the Taliban. The Left’s MO is to call any group hateful if their beliefs differ from their own. I’m sure they would call the Bible a hate book too.
    The city council members who are backtracking are only doing so because of all the negative worldwide publicity.

    • They are also backtracking after realizing they can’t be seen enjoying a Chick-Fil-A in the future.

    • Yup. Just like those Taliban bakers who you think have a right to discriminate just because they don’t like the lifestyle of their customers. Hateful people, every one of ‘em. The Right’s MO is to call any group leftist and sinners if their beliefs differ from their own.

      And the Bible isn’t a hate book. It’s the mouth breathing idiots that use it to justify their discrimination and bigotry that are hateful.

  14. When you divide 7 by 7 you get 0.142857142857143, then multiply it by 100 and you get 14.29%, which is just 0.71% under 15%.

    It seems the other six days have an average 0.119047619047619% difference.

    What if a Muslim owned company wanted to be closed on Friday or Jewish owned company wanted to be closed from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. Would they be treated the same.

    Search you souls and gain some humility in such biased reporting!

  15. Please correct:

    When you divide 1 by 7 you get 0.142857142857143, then multiply it by 100 and you get 14.29%, which is just 0.71% under 15%.

    It seems the other six days have an average 0.119047619047619% difference.

    What if a Muslim owned company wanted to be closed on Friday or Jewish owned company wanted to be closed from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. Would they be treated the same.

    Search you souls and gain some humility in such biased reporting!

    • They should be treated the same, absolutely. If they want to have a presence in an airport that’s open seven days a week, then they need to be open for every one of those days. Regardless of how much money they make over the other six days.

  16. It seems that among the hate groups Chik-Fil-A is criticized for supporting are the Fellowship for Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army. Really?

    The lines at Love Field tell the story. CFA lines are by far the longest with exception of the morning rush hour at Starbucks. I have had to skip buying my meal at CFA there and gone elsewhere only because of the short time before my flight. Closing on Sunday literally gives the other stores a chance to recover some of the market share!

    • Excellent points, Tim. When returning to SAT the other day I saw a man at my gate eating from a Chick-Fil-A bag with a Chick-Fil-A cup in his hand. Obviously he bought that in that airport (DFW). My initial thought was that he might be gang tackled prior to boarding the plane by some San Antonio City Council SJW to prevent him from bring his “hate” back to our fair city!

  17. Buddy has it right. Chick-Fil-A is closed. Am I going to go hungry? Nope – just a few steps in either direction, and I can get something else. Same money used whether in Chick-Fil-A or elsewhere at the airport. GOOD GRIEF! What was Council members thinking or maybe the problem was – they weren’t thinking. And in the past, ALL stores were closed on Sunday. We made do.

  18. Totally agree that Starbucks tastes burnt, except Pikes Peak. Local Coffee is very good. But now that they will be at the airport in place of CFA (if so ccessful), Ill stick w/Dunkin.

  19. I can certainly see both sides of this issue. Yet I did not know about Chick-Fil-A and their owner’s support of anti LGBT issues. I very seldomly eat there but now I will not give them my money. So I am glad that this was brought to my attention. I know it doesn’t matter to Chick-Fil-A but I do what I can with the issues I believe.
    I do think this is a great opportunity for the city to ask the contractor to go with a local vendor, we have such great local choices or perhaps one of our tasty truck vendors. If not that, at least go with a chain that is located in Texas, like WhatABurger, a TX barbecue chain, etc.
    I do quite a bit of traveling and now that I think of it, I do not see many Chick-Fil-A’s in airports. I can only thing of one that I have seen and I believe it was in the Houston airport. I say go with a local vendor!

    • Have you tried Boss Bagels? They’re terrible. Way bigger than a bagel ought to be, and expensive, not to mention tasteless. They are chewy. Though so that’s good. While I’m at it, CM used to have good bagels, now they’re dinner rolls in the shape of a bagel.

      If anyone knows of a good bagel place in SA, please ring out.

      • Chicago Bagel on Wurzbach. Or Max & Louie’s at the Embassy. These are the closest to a NYC bagel that you can find in SA.

  20. We travel abroad each year. After moving from Houston recently, we get a kick out of the SA airport which has low volume pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It’s virtually empty on late evening flights. The only people in the terminal are employees and arriving passengers.

    I don’t believe Chick Fil A is really missing out on much? I am a customer.
    Small thinkers and overt hypocrisy have embarrassed San Antonio. Tisk Tisk.

  21. Prior to the 2015 SCOTUS ruling, I did not support same sex marriage for religious reasons. I had active friendships with gays. I respected our high court and was not hung up on the ruling. Chick-fil-A was/is entitled to their convictions. The franchise did not treat gay clientele differently or refuse to serve them. Statements by company spokespersons since the one made in 2012 which caused all the outrage make it clear that Chick-fil-A wishes to take an apolitical stance. The fact that multiple businesses, student groups, and city councils have continued to attempt to blackball/punish Chick-fil-A is shameful, discriminatory, and self-serving. I am dismayed that our city council has gone low for what appears to be political gain. I hope it backfires.

  22. I have yet to eat at a CFA. Every time I think to do so, the lines are wrapped around the building and down the street.

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