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Chick-fil-A founder talks faith, business and charity
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Chick-fil-A founder and owner Truett Cathy, left, chats with Blackshear Place Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Crook, right, and longtime Chick-fil-A employee Jeff Knowles at the church’s meet and greet Tuesday afternoon. Cathy later was the speaker for a church outreach program.

OAKWOOD — At 87, Truett Cathy claims he is not a public speaker. But you might have a hard time convincing the crowd that came to listen to him Tuesday night.

Cathy, who with his brother started a little grill to serve assembly line workers at the Ford Motor Co. plant at Hapeville, has become famous for his boneless breast of chicken sandwich offered at 1,400 Chick-fil-A restaurants in 37 states.

The sandwich that Cathy created helped lead the chain to be named the healthiest in a book that looks at nutrition in fast food.

His message at Blackshear Place Baptist Church was part business acumen and part Christian testimony.

"Do you know how you can tell when a person needs encouragement?" Cathy asked. "If they’re breathing. Everybody needs a dose of encouragement."

He said his first restaurant, the Dwarf Grill, was open 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. He said the decision to close on Sunday, which has continued to be a policy of Chick-fil-A, was rooted partly in his faith, but there was another reason.

"After being open for that long, we were tired," he said.

Many of his current Chick-fil-A store operators came from the ranks of part-timers who worked for the company in high school or college.

Cathy talked of his hardscrabble upbringing in Atlanta, where he delivered newspapers and sold bottles of Coca-Cola to his friends and neighbors at a profit.

"I was a pretty good salesman in my day," he said.

In recent years, the businessman has focused on programs to assist children, primarily those from troubled homes. He has helped sponsor a number of foster homes for youth.

"I received an award from the president not too long ago. He asked about the children’s homes, I told him we’d have more if it weren’t for the federal government," he said.

Cathy said in many cases, troubled young people come from a home with an absent father.

"I feel dad is a most important part of a home," he said. "He’s the CEO of one of the greatest institutions. A child needs a mother, but he needs a dad."

Blackshear Place Baptist Church, which sponsored the event, invited the public as an outreach beyond its congregation.

"I wanted to bring in a Christian leader, but not a preacher, that would be recognizable," said the Rev. Jeff Crook, pastor of the church. "When Truett Cathy agreed to come, we thought this was too good of a secret and we wanted to reach out to the community."