Plainfield Chick-fil-A Owner Talks Family, Community & Giving Back
Photographer: Amy Payne
Just prior to the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Chris Spires and his wife, Julie, were faithful missionaries in Houston, Texas, helping homeless youth and young moms. The couple left the mission field two days before September 11, 2001, and moved to Indiana. A year later, Spires took a job with Chick-fil-A and the pair began talking about starting a family.
“My wife and I always knew that we wanted to adopt. We talked about it when we were dating in college,” Spires says. “It was always part of the conversation because it was something on our hearts.”
Their intention was to try for a biological child, then adopt one, then have another biological child, and adopt another. Because Spires came from a family of three boys, he was intent on not having a middle child who can sometimes feel like a third wheel. Their grand plan was set in motion when Julie gave birth to Noel. Next, they adopted Preston, a baby boy from Guatemala.
“He was eight months old when we picked him up,” Spires says. “He was just a peanut.”
A few years later, they had Ezekiel. They sought to adopt their final child and were on a family vacation in Disneyland when they received a call from the adoption agency, asking if they would consider adopting twin girls from Ghana. They had to provide an answer within 48 hours.
“We prayed about it at Disney where there are no distractions,” says Spires with a chuckle. “We determined that we were meant to have a middle child after all.”
Noel is now 15, Preston is 12, Ezekiel is 8, and Gabrielle and Rachelle are 5.
While building their family, Spires was also busy building a career with Chick-fil-A. He started as a corporate employee before being asked to take on the Plainfield store for permanent ownership. When he took over Plainfield, it was the lowest performing Chick-fil-A in the chain by roughly 33 percent.
“I was crazy enough to take it,” Spires says. “I figured the only way to go was up.”
In the 14 years Spires has owned the restaurant, employee numbers have increased from 40 to 130.
“We’re a small business, but we’re getting to be less of a small business,” he says.
And in an effort to continue to improve, they recently closed for a major renovation. Though customers hated to not have access to a favorite dining establishment, it was worth the sacrifice. Outdoor seating was expanded. They also totally redid the interior and exterior of the dining room and façade.
“We added 600 square feet to the back of the building, which enabled us to add a buffer to food safety,” Spires says. “This means we have totally eliminated concern for cross-contamination of food.”
Kitchen staff appreciates the additional cooking space as the old kitchen only had enough room for three to five people. Now 9-12 employees can easily maneuver around the kitchen.
“The refurbished floor plan allows us to be more efficient,” Spires says. “It also allows room for growth by about 40 percent.”
Customers will be thrilled by the addition of a second drive-through lane, which will improve traffic flow. Plus, they are the first store in Indiana to install canopies to offer protection from the rain and harsh elements.
In the old format, their record for serving drive-through customers was 166 cars an hour. Their goal now is to reach 200, not because they want to fulfill some random goal number but because, as Spires put it, “a carry-out customer is an unhappy drive-through customer.”
“Most guests who do carry-out do it because the drive-through lane is too long or too slow,” Spires says.
In addition, they totally redid their parking lot, adding parking spots and moving handicap spots to the other side of the building. Changing the flow of the lot facilitates ease when entering and exiting the lot.
On a daily basis Spires challenges his staff to do all they can to have a positive influence on society. Therefore, during the five-week renovation, Spires continued to pay his entire staff their salaries but asked that they use their free time to volunteer in the community.
“We have such a wonderful community — not just in Plainfield but surrounding areas as well — so I thought this would be the perfect time to have our employees volunteer at organizations in and around Hendricks County,” he says.
In total, employees volunteered at 28 different organizations and donated 5,000 hours of service time, working at places such as the Imagination Lab, Camp Camby, the Plainfield Aquatics Center, Active Grace, Hendricks County Senior Services, The Gathering Together, Indy Search & Rescue and several local churches. Some employees appreciated the change of pace while others were eager to get back to work at their home base, Chick-fil-A.
“Overall, I think people had positive experiences with volunteering,” Spires says. “What’s great is that their eyes are now open to all of the wonderful opportunities that exist so I’m sure some of them will continue to volunteer in their spare time.”
A quick glance at social media posts on the Plainfield Chatter page reveals that customers regularly rave about the service they receive at Chick-fil-A. Though flattered, Spires is quick to not take credit.
“I let our employees know that I don’t pay their paychecks. The customers do,” Spires says. “We treat them well because if we don’t have customers, we don’t have a paycheck. It’s not a threat in any way, just a clarification about who is most important.”
And when it comes to customer satisfaction, accuracy is paramount.
“Who cares if we get you through fast but the food is wrong?” Spires says. “If that happens, you have to come back in and now have just doubled your time. So, accuracy comes first, speed second.”
Chick-fil-A partners with two area schools to hire special needs students on a part-time basis, too.
“These kids want to be producers in society,” Spires says. “Working here allows them to be in a positive environment and gain skills they can use after high school.”
Spires appreciates Plainfield’s growing community, calling it a “vibrant, positive place to live.”
“Everyone is so supportive of one another, whether it be the Chamber, the school system or the Parks Department,” Spires says. “Plainfield is just a great place to live. That’s why we love having our business in our community.”
Chick-fil-A in Plainfield has won six top sales awards, resulting in receiving four vehicles from CFA corporate that say “Chick-fil-A award winner.”
“Corporate puts that phrase on the cars,” Spires says. “We’ve suggested that they add a ‘thank-you’ sticker, [acknowledging] the community support that makes those awards achievable. Our cars are not a way of boasting about our success so much as a symbol of the hard work of our employees and the support of our community.”