Chick-fil-A moves to expand in Toronto and tone down anti-gay image

The arrival of the American fast-food chain's second store at Yorkdale Shopping Mall is part of a plan to open 15 locations in Ontario over the next five years

Toronto is getting more Chick-fil-A. One of the U.S.’s largest fast food chains is now expanding with a second location in the Yorkdale Shopping Mall set to open today (Tuesday, January 7). 

Protests against the opening of the franchise’s first Toronto location in September received worldwide media attention for the company’s extensive financial support to groups opposed to same-sex marriage and who advocate for gay conversion therapy.

In November, the chain announced plans to shift its charitable focus to education, homelessness and hunger, although Chick-fil-A president Tim Tassopoulos was quoted as saying at the time that, “No organization will be excluded from future consideration – faith-based or non-faith based.”

The move to tone down its anti-gay image comes after Chick-fil-A announced it would be closing its first U.K. location after only eight days in business, following daily protests. The company said it had only planned to stay at the location for six months, but it seems mall operators in Reading, where the restaurant is located, were the ones not interested in extending its lease following the public backlash.

The company’s first Toronto franchise is located at 1 Bloor East, a short hop, skip and sashay away from Toronto’s gay village.

First Capital Realty, Chick-fil-A’s landlord at 1 Bloor, states in its diversity and inclusion statement that its tenants are carefully selected “to best serve the needs of the local community.” Paul C. Douglas, who sits on First Capital’s board of directors, is also head of Canadian Business Banking for Pride Toronto’s lead sponsor, TD Canada Trust. How is allowing a company into the community that actively donates to charities that oppose same sex rights respecting the rights of all individuals? NOW’s calls on that question to Douglas and First Capital Realty CEO Adam Paul went unanswered

First Capital’s director of sustainability, Melissa Jacobs, offers that, “I understand what’s behind the Chick-fil-A brand and what they are against, which I certainly do not stand behind and I think there’s a lot of people at the company that don’t, I just can’t speak to how that was considered.” She adds that the company’s code of conduct and ethics “should be something that is adhered to company-wide.”

Chick-Fil-A protest Toronto 3.jpg

Zach Ruiter

It’s a similar story at Oxford Properties, Chick-fil-A’s Yorkdale landlord, which is owned by OMERS, the Ontario municipal employees pension fund. Multiple requests for comment to Oxford, OMERS and Yorkdale (where animal rights advocates have been forcibly removed from the mall for demonstrations at Canada Goose) also went unanswered.

Smokey Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents Ontario workers, calls the leasing to Chick-fil-A “totally inappropriate” but not surprising given some of OMERS’ other recent investment decisions.

In a statement on the Chick-fil-A website, Yorkdale Chick-fil-A owner/operator Austin Harrison, who has previously opened in new markets for the chain in Portland, Seattle, New York and Chicago, writes that “Toronto is an amazing city, and my wife and I are so grateful to be here.”

After advertising to hire employees at $15 per hour, who are required to embody a “servant spirit with a strong sense of stewardship,” the location received 2,000 job applications and hired 70 people.

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest restaurant chain in the U.S. behind McDonald’s and Starbucks.  In 2018 the chain did $10.46 billion in sales at over 2,300 locations.

It has faced a series of lawsuits from past employees alleging the company regularly breaks employment law. One lawsuit involves the alleged firing of a Muslim worker for refusing to pray to Jesus with fellow employees. A 2007 expose in Forbes reveals the company’s extensive screening of new employees devoted to Christian causes.

The owner of the Bloor Street location worked for Chick-fil-A before recently relocating to Toronto from North Carolina. An online search reveals he worked for kids’ camps in 2012 and 2014 run by WinShape, the foundation that has received some $5 million from Chick-fil-A in recent years and donated most of that to Christian organizations, including the Family Foundation, Exodus International and the Family Research Council.

Chick-fil-A and their dairy cow mascot have a large presence at the WinShape camps – campers pose with the mascot that bears a sign reading “REEL CAMPERZ EAT CHIKIN.”

In 2012, Boston’s then-Mayor Thomas Menino went so far as to write a letter to Chick-fil-A in solidarity with the LGBTQ community to urge the company to back out of its plans to locate there.

The City of Toronto can’t really do much to stop Chick-fil-A, according to Fiona Chapman, Toronto’s director of Business Licencing. Under the licensing bylaw, “the requirements would not include any information that would bring to light an anti-LGBTQ position, unless there were criminal charges laid.”

Chapman added the City of Toronto “does not tolerate, ignore or condone harassment or discrimination of any kind. Any incident of this type would be referred to police for investigation and any appropriate action.”

Don Peat, spokesperson for Mayor John Tory, writes in an email response to NOW that “Mayor Tory has always encouraged companies to locate jobs and investment in Toronto, but he has also always encouraged companies to embrace Toronto’s values including support for the LGBTQ+ community.  The Mayor believes people can make up their own minds about where they want to eat or not, but he has no plans to eat there.”

According to Chick-fil-A’s website, the arrival of the Yorkdale store is part of the company’s commitment to opening 15 locations in Ontario over the next five years. 

Chick-fil-A protest Toronto 2.jpg

Zach Ruiter


Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *