If you are having trouble wrapping your head around why anyone would camp out in a parking lot on back-to-back nights for a free chicken sandwich, order of waffle fries and a medium drink weekly, Robert Hutto understands.
If you think it’s all about the chicken (although he says it’s really not), Hutto gets it.
And if you think Hutto is a little crazy for sleeping in an asphalt parking space off S.R. 56 and then hanging out there all day in 93-degree heat — for a few sandwiches — he doesn’t blame you.
“They are not too far from the truth,’’ Hutto says.
Hutto and Barbra Spesak, Brandon residents, were the first two people in line at the Grand Opening of the newest Chick-fil-A in our area, this one in front of the Tampa Premium Outlets off S.R. 56. Hutto arrived June 28 at 8 p.m.; he saved a spot under his 10’x10’ tent for Spesak, who arrived after work at 11:30 p.m.
Decked out in complimentary red and white Chick-fil-A t-shirts and paper hats, they were the first two in line and the first two through the door on Thursday morning, June 30. As cameras from two local television stations rolled — as well as our own WCNT-tv cameras recording footage for our second episode (see pages 44-45 and 51), Hutto and Spesak met the local Chick-fil-A franchise owner Britt Young, shook his hand and received their chicken “debit” card — stocked with 52 No. 1 combos — before being ushered out another door and back into the parking lot.
For those doing the math at home, it was 34 hours of waiting for about 30 seconds of picking up the reward.
“But, it’s about the experience,’’ Hutto said.
The experience is called the First 100, a Chick-fil-A tradition started 12 years ago to celebrate the grand openings of their wildly popular fast food chicken restaurants. Chick-fil-A has given away more than $27-million in free food since beginning the First 100.
For Hutto, it was the third time he had been one of the first 100. He also waited overnight at the Chick-fil-A openings on Waters Ave. in Citrus Park, as well as for the Bruce B. Downs Blvd. location in New Tampa.
“I’ve made some friends at these things,’’ Hutto said. “They have a live deejay playing music. They feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner, so that’s not bad. It’s a good time.”
Both Hutto and Spesak admit that they probably won’t eat every No. 1 meal on their cards themselves.
“It really isn’t about the sandwich,’’ Hutto said. “When we are out and we see someone who needs a sandwich, like a homeless person or something like that, we’ll go hit the drive-thru and use the card for them. We’ll also use it for friends and family.”
Hutto, who transports RVs all over the country for a living, says he also sometimes uses his free meals as a pit stop when he’s on the road.
He said of all the First 100 events he has attended, this one might have been the toughest. It was blistering hot, the heat made even worse by his setup on black asphalt, and it rained three times. During one heavy downpour the last day, more than a dozen revelers seeking free chicken abandoned their posts, and the first 12 alternates were selected.
Nothing, however, was deterring Spesak, a certified nursing assistant. It was her first overnighter at Chick-fil-A.
“It was fun,’’ she said. “Everybody thought I was crazy, the people at work thought I was crazy, for taking days off to go camp out at a Chick-fil-A.”
And, she may have caught the fever. Asked if they had plans to do this again, Spesak said she is already scouting out the next opening.
“I hear they might be opening one soon on Dale Mabry,’’ she said, smiling.