Amid the hustle and bustle of the busy sidewalk, clusters of people stopped and gathered Thursday outside the glass windows of a business on the east side of Yonge Street, just south of Bloor.
Still not in operation, yet highly anticipated, the staff inside Canada’s first full Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant are busy training and giving a sneak taste to local community partners, less than 24 before opening.
Eager Torontonians have been licking their lips for that moment.
“I actually am excited,” said Brittany Boyd-Pyman. She had her first taste of Chick-fil-A last weekend in the U.S. and says she is now hooked.
“I’m gluten-intolerant so they have gluten-free options which is great for me for fast food.”
Many on Yonge who haven’t eaten at Chick-fil-A before expressed an excited curiosity due to everything they’ve read about it online.
The product has proven successful, with over 2,300 locations across the U.S., but in the minds of many, Chick-fil-A is not welcome on Canadian soil.
“It’s about more than just about food…it’s about hate,” says Justin Khan, Director of Public Interest and Legal Initiatives with the 519, an advocacy group for Toronto’s LGBTQ2 community.
“It’s about rhetoric that’s changing our community and it’s things that we should be concerned about.”
The family-run chicken chain drew the ire of the community in 2012, when CEO Dan Cathy, a devout Southern Baptist, was accused of being against same-sex marriage.
Cathy was quoted in an interview with the Baptist Press, saying, “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.”
The company’s foundation has also donated millions over the years to groups critics call anti-LGBTQ2.
The 519 plans to lead a protest outside the chain’s Toronto location Friday morning to raise awareness and call for a boycott.
“When we have an increasing global climate and rhetoric around hate-fuelled values, this is about taking a stand against that,” said Jaymie Sampa, the 519’s manager of anti-violence initiatives.
They may convince some, like Boyd-Pyman, who upon being informed of the controversy told Global News, “I did not realize that. That would definitely affect my decision. It has affected my decision with other brands, so it would be the same case for this.”
But just like in the U.S., many potential customers who spoke to Global News said they’re willing to separate the family’s opinions from their business, which still serves and employs people of all sexual orientations.
“I think that’s their right,” says Jim, who only wanted to have his first name used.
WATCH: Toronto protesters target imminent opening of embattled fast food chain Chick-Fil-A
That sentiment was echoed by multiple people outside of the store Thursday afternoon.
In an emailed statement, the store’s operator, Wilson Yang, told Global News:
“We want all Torontonians to know they are welcome at Chick-fil-A Yonge & Bloor. We respect people’s right to share their opinions. Our focus is on offering a welcoming and respectful environment for our guests and team members and we encourage people to give us a try.”
The email also called the media reports around its donations in 2017 “misleading,” saying the money is focused on programs that benefit kids and education and is not a moral stance.
LGBTQ2 and animal rights activists are scheduled to turn out in front of the brand-new Toronto location when it makes its grand opening Friday morning.