A new Chick-fil-A has now opened in Columbus, ringing in the launch with food prizes, games and unusual activities.

Columbus resident Judy Manna worked on one of those projects while sitting cross-legged in a 30-year-old tent planted in the parking lot of the newly opened restaurant at 1250 N. National Road, near Lowes.

Her hands sculpted a tiny model of a chicken from a Rice Krispies Treat.

“I grew up on a ranch. I should be able to do this,” she said as she formed the poultry shaped pastry.

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When Manna and her husband Mike arrived at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, 20 people already were in line. By 9 a.m., an additional 40 people had joined the festivities.

The first 100 people in line for opening events at Chick-fil-A restaurants each receive a gift card valued at about $250 loaded with 52 meals consisting of a sandwich, soda and fries. Technically, the restaurant does not open until 6 a.m. today, but participants were required to have camped overnight to claim their prize.

The marketing promotion is a 12-year tradition for the chain. Every new Chick-fil-A restaurant has a similar opening with games, prizes and camping. More than $27 million in free food was distributed last year alone.

Construction of the Chick-fil-A restaurant, the first in Columbus, began in October and was completed in February. Most of March was devoted to training and preparing 75 employees for opening day, franchise owner Terry Carrico said.

He decided to purchase a Chick-fil-A franchise after working in his brother Tony’s store in Louisville. The interview process for owners is a four-year experience, winnowing down 24,000 applicants for 100 new franchises, Carrico said.

For him, the payoff is seeing about 60 people outside playing games and welcoming the new store to town, he said.

As he stands in the foyer, greeting guests, new arrivals trickle in every few minutes.

“Takes a lot of heart to stand out there in the cold, putting out your tent,” Carrico said.

Columbus resident Brianna Lambert is one of those fans. While this is her first grand opening, she is no Chick-fil-A newcomer.

Lambert said she regularly drives with her husband David to Chick-fil-A locations in Greenwood and Southport. She even dressed up for Cow Appreciation Day, donning a bovine costume in July. She was rewarded with a free Chick-fil-A meal.

The Lamberts also arrived at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.

While they appreciate the games and activities, for them the store promotion is serious business.

With two children and a third on the way, 52 free meals a year will help the family budget, Brianna Lambert said. The fact that she enthusiastically enjoys Chick-fil-A is a big bonus.

Along with opening festivities and the free food give-away, the restaurant is hosting a children’s book drive, collecting used books for students attending school at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Chick-fil-A Columbus

The Chick-fil-A restaurant opens 6 a.m. today at 1250 N. National Road in Columbus, one of 25 new Midwest locations opening this year. While this is the first location in Columbus, 33 Chick-fil-A stores have opened in Indiana since 1979. 

Franchise owner Terry Carrico has hired 75 employees to work at the local restaurant.

The opening celebration included games, activities and 100 gift cards loaded with 52 meals consisting of a sandwich, fries and drink for the first 100 customers to have camped out overnight.