BATAVIA – A sloppy mix of rain and sleet fell on Rich Fitzgerald of Oswego Thursday morning as he worked to take down his tent in front of the newly-opened Chick-fil-A restaurant on Randall Road in Batavia.
Fitzgerald was among 100 people who camped out in front of the Chick-fil-A for 24 hours to win a one-year supply of free Chick-fil-A meals. He arrived at Chick-fil-A at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday, even before the line started at 6 a.m.
To keep himself warm overnight, Fitzgerald brought a portable heater with him.
"It kept the chill off," he said. "It provided a little heat so I was not freezing cold."
The promotion was part of Chick-fil-A's grand opening Thursday of its restaurant at 185 N. Randall Road, the first in the Tri-Cities. Chick-fil-A employees greeted Fitzgerald and the others with applause as they strolled through the restaurant at about 6 a.m. to receive their meal tickets.
The restaurant officially opened for business at 6:30 a.m.
Fitzgerald has traveled to seven states to participate in 17 grand openings. For Fitzgerald, it's about more than just free food.
"It's a party atmosphere," he said. "I've met a lot of great people."
This is the sixth time Joe Jones, of Carol Stream, has camped out at a Chick-fil-A grand opening. He was sure to bring a tent with him.
"I'm just not brave enough to sit in a lawn chair and hope for the best," Jones said. "This is the coldest one I've been to."
He was able to stay warm without a heater.
"I had plenty of blankets," Jones said. "I stayed pretty warm."
Todd Moore, 45, of Griffin, Ga., has racked up plenty of free food from Chick-fil-A over the years. Thursday's grand opening was his 70th one.
"When you do a lot of them, you sort of get addicted to them," Moore said.
He sees a lot of the same people when he camps out.
"It is sort of like a family reunion," Moore said.
Murray Collier, the owner/operator of the Batavia Chick-fil-A, said he was overwhelmed by the turnout. His wife, Jamie, grew up in Batavia.
"It's just amazing to me that we have such dedicated fans who are willing to spend the night in the rain and the snow," Collier said.