The Chick-fil-A at the Mall of Abilene is moseying on to a nearby pasture at the end of day Saturday.
The fast-food chain’s signature chicken sandwiches have been flying out of the mall since the shopping center opened March 14, 1979.
As online shopping has changed foot traffic at brick-and-mortar locations, “Chick-fil-A corporate has been closing lots of mall locations, especially through COVID,” said store director Anthony Crespo, who has been at the mall location since August 2019.
Mall General Manager Steve Niles said he hated to hear of the decision, describing the company “as a good tenant.”
“So even though we’re disappointed, we see it as an opportunity and will look to enhance our retail offerings here,” Niles said.
The mall location closes Saturday at the end of its lease, Crespo said.
Officials at the restaurant’s corporate office “did contact us and ask for our input and feedback, and we didn’t object, and they decided to go ahead and close it down,” Crespo said.
The operator for the mall Chick-fil-A has offered all 15 employees jobs at his second location at 3130 S. Clack St.
“We will staff upward of 35 employees at Clack during one shift, whereas here, I have fire employees scheduled today,” Crespo said on Friday.
During the pandemic, the mall location’s business has been about 60% to 70% of pre-pandemic levels, Crespo said.
In contrast, the Clack Street location saw “a huge increase. 2020 was a really big increase over 2019,” he said.
With the dining room closed to customers, employees take orders outside the two drive-thru lanes as well as a third lane in the parking lot to deal with the heavier traffic that often backs up onto Southwest Drive.
Curb-side and delivery services also are offered, with customers able to place orders through the company’s phone app.
“One of the areas we’ve really been trying to grow over there is our delivery, and this is going to give us the opportunity to add delivery drivers and really grow that business,” Crespo said.
When the mall closing was announced on the location’s Facebook page, Crespo’s phone blew up with “text messages asking, ‘What’s going on? You going to be OK?,'” he said.
More than 380 comments have been made on the post, most expressing sadness at the news or fond memories of past visits.
Chick-fil-A was one of six fast-food establishments to open when the mall did. The mall location was the chain’s first in Abilene and 110th overall, and sandwiches sold for $1.40 each. Orders for pieces of chicken were referred to as ordering “by the barn.” Five pieces cost $5.95 in 1979.
The big selling point was boneless chicken.
Desserts included lemon meringue pie.
Other food tenants included Famous Ramos Hot Dogs (85 cents each) and Coastal Cookies, which offered a costumed character named Mr. Cookie.
Coastal Cookies remain in business at the mall.
There are no special plans to mark the restaurant’s last day at the mall.
“We’ll just be done. Nothing special planned. We’re just going to finish strong,” Crespo said.
Other mall restaurants
A new tenant has yet to be identified for the space soon to be vacated by Chick-fil-A, Niles said, but he hopes to announce one soon.
Other restaurants continuing to operate at the mall are:
- Brighton Fish & Grill
- Chuck E. Cheese
- Coco Loco Delights
- Dante’s Pizza
- El Chico
- Enfu Express
- Heff’s Burgers
Without disclosing actual figures, Niles described the holiday season foot traffic as good, with several seasonal retailers added at that time.
The mall staff continues to enhance its retail offerings, Niles said, and partner with the community on special events, such as Chorus Abilene’s Abilene Idol auditions last Saturday. The mall also is home to an Abilene Library branch and Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It’s our mall, the Mall of Abilene. It’s all reflective of the community. I think we’re a strong, stable community, and I would think that would speak the same to the mall,” Niles said.
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Chick-fil-A flying the coop as original Mall of Abilene tenant