S. Truett Cathy started working when he was eight years old—and he hasn’t stopped since. “I always thought the harder you worked, the more successful you would be,” says Cathy, now 85.
Certainly that is true in his case. Cathy is founder of Chick-fil-A, the nation’s second-largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain. Chick-fil-A, however, is not Cathy’s first restaurant. His first eatery, The Dwarf Grill, opened in 1946. It was later renamed The Dwarf House in 1951when a second location was added.
Now celebrating 60 years in the restaurant business, Cathy holds fast to the business principles he developed as a child. “I was brought up in the deep Depression,” Cathy says. “There’s a lesson to be learned in being brought up in poverty: the value of the dollar.”
Born in Eatonton, Georgia, Cathy was three when his family moved to Atlanta. His father, a real estate agent, never recovered from the Depression, he says. His mother operated a boarding house. Boarders got two meals a day. Cathy shelled peas, set the table, and did the dishes. On Sundays, he baked cakes.
At age eight, he bought six Coca-Colas for a quarter and sold them for a nickel each. He also sold magazines. When he was 12, he started the newspaper route he kept through high school. Cathy tucked papers behind screened doors or tossed them on rocking chairs to “keep the dogs from chewing on it,” he says. “I realized then the importance of pleasing the customer.”
Motivated by incentives, including trips to Jacksonville Beach, Cathy had no problem asking people to switch newspapers to gain a much-needed point. (At the time, there were two Atlanta newspapers.) As a result, incentives are a large part of Chick-fil-A’s program. The company has awarded more than 300 cars to operators who have exceeded sales goals.
Discharged from the military in 1945, Cathy and brother Ben pooled their funds, which amounted to $4,000, and borrowed $6,600 to build a restaurant with 10 counter stools and four tables. They named it The Dwarf Grill and kept it open 24 hours, 6 days a week. On Sundays, it was closed—a hallmark of Cathy’s restaurants. “It was the best business decision I ever made,” he says. “Not only is it honoring God, but it helped us attract the caliber of people who appreciate Sunday off, whether they worship or not.”