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Civic groups welcome sandwich mogul
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Truett Cathy enjoys speaking about his hardscrabble upbringing in Atlanta, even though he now is listed on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest Americans.

"I was brought up in the deep Depression in a time of poverty," Cathy said. "Later on, I realized you could buy Cokes six for a quarter and sell them for a nickel apiece and make a nickel profit."

The boneless chicken sandwich, which Cathy created, was the foundation of Chick-fil-A, which now has restaurants in 37 states.

Cathy said that the company grew, but found itself at a crossroads in 1982 when interest rates were hovering around 20 percent.

Cathy and his top eight executives met at PineIsle resort on Lake Lanier Islands and formulated a mission statement for the company.

"That we may glorify God by being faithful stewards in all that is entrusted to our care. And that we might have a positive influence on all the people we come in contact with," Cathy said.

He said the next year the company had a 37 percent increase in business.

At 86, Truett Cathy, who continues to hold the title of chief executive of Chick-fil-A, remains a nonstop cheerleader for

his company.

He spoke to a combined meeting of the Gainesville Kiwanis and Lions clubs at the Gainesville Civic Center Tuesday afternoon.

"I’ve got a question for you, being here in the chicken capital of the world right here in Gainesville. What does a cow say?"

The packed ballroom responded in unison, "Eat more chicken."

Not content with the volume, Cathy asked again and drew a much larger response.

The company, which remains privately held, had 2006 sales of $2.275 billion.

The whole concept of a boneless chicken sandwich almost happened by accident.

In 1961, Jim and Hall Goode, owners of Atlanta-based Goode Brothers Poultry, came to Cathy in a quandary. An airline had asked them to provide a boneless, skinless chicken breast that would fit in the plastic trays they used to serve meals on planes. The Goodes met the request, but their process left boneless breast pieces that didn’t meet the airline’s size requirements. They asked Cathy if he could do anything with them.

Determined not to let this opportunity pass him by, Cathy accepted the Goode’s shipment and began experimenting with cooking techniques. Cathy thought back to his mother’s method of cooking chicken by covering the pan with a heavy top, creating something of a pressure cooker. He tried this method and found that the chicken cooked faster and remained moist and tender. During this time of initial experimentation, he discovered the recently introduced Henny Penny commercial cooker, a pressure cooker that used oil and could cook a boneless chicken breast — from start to finish — in four minutes.

In recent years, Cathy has focused much of his efforts on programs for young people.

His WinShape Foundation, founded in 1984, grew from his desire to "shape winners" by helping young people succeed in life through scholarships and other youth-support programs. The foundation annually awards 20 to 30 students wishing to attend Berry College in Rome with scholarships up to $32,000 that are jointly funded by the college.

In addition, through its own scholarship program, the Chick-fil-A chain has given more than $22 million in $1,000 scholarships to Chick-fil-A restaurant employees since 1973. This year, the company will award more than $1.3 million in scholarships to its restaurant workers.

Cathy has authored a number of inspirational books, and has a new one due out this month called, "How did you do it, Truett?"