Lauren Silich may not be a household Chicago name, but her restaurant has made headlines in every major media outlet this week. Silich is the owner of Chicago's only Chick-fil-A, 30 E. Chicago.
The franchise has come under intense scrutiny in recent days after the corporation's CEO made statements against same-sex marriage.
That controversy has spread to Chicago where Ald. Proco Joe Moreno has vowed to block the chain from moving into his ward (Silich is not associated with that deal). Windy City Times caught up with Silich to ask her views on gay rights and to confirm media reports that her store donated to LGBT groups this year.
Windy City Times: So how did you come to open a Chick-fil-A in the Chicago?
Lauren Silich: I'm from Chicago, my husband is from Chicago. I was in marketing for about ten years here in Chicago… Chick-fil-A was actually my client. So that's how I got to know Chick-fil-A. We opened last year, June 16. We have about 97 employees now.
WCT: I saw reports that you've donated to LGBT groups. Who have you donated to?
Lauren Silich: It's been two years in a row, even though we've only been open for a year, I think their event happened to be right when we opened, and just recently we did it again. They asked for a raffle prize and the event made sense for us because it was in the city. The Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. (Windy City Times confirmed this with the Hall of Fame. According to a Hall of Fame spokesperson, Chick-fil-A has donated bags of prizes twice, including a coupon for free Chick-fil-A for a year.)
They asked. They've been the only one that has asked. We haven't really gone out and asked 'hey, can we donate to you?' We just look at the ones that ask.
WCT: So what is your stance on same-sex marriage?
Lauren Silich: I think that given the whole recent event, it doesn't really matter what I believe, it matters how I run my restaurant. And obviously, we don't have any discriminatory policies in place in any way, shape or form. I mean that's the law. I run my restaurant so that we serve everybody, regardless of belief or orientation or lifestyle.
I have several gay and lesbian employees that have been with me for a long time, and it's never been an issue… And a lot of my employees aren't that familiar with the brand because they're Chicagoans. So to them, I'm the Chick-fil-A brand. When this whole thing exploded, they're like, "This is crazy. You would never."
WCT: So, weighing in on the marriage issue is a bomb for you either way?
Lauren Silich: You have an issue that quite possibly is one of the most controversial, talked-about and passionate issue of our lifetime. What I find interesting is how people have taken the personal views of our CEO and have translated that into discriminatory policy. It hurts my heart that people would think I would run my restaurant in any way that was discriminatory… The fact is that Dan Cathy's comments are his personal views, and every CEO in the country has personal views. That doesn't necessarily mean that their stores on a local level, or their employees believe that.
WCT: But Chick-fil-A has also donated to anti-gay causes. There is also a lot of concern that spending money at Chick-fil-A locally fuels a company that opposes gay rights nationally.
Lauren Silich: I absolutely understand that people have that concern, and I think that that's a valid point. If people choose not to eat here because a percentage of my profits going to corporate, then that's definitely their choice. I think it's great that we live in a country where we can vote with our wallets. The only thing that I would challenge people, is that let's make sure on a holistic level that we're voting fairly.
WCT: Okay, so you're not going to answer the gay marriage question, but do you consider yourself a friend of the LGBT community?
Lauren Silich: Absolutely.
WCT: Do you consider yourself a supporter of LGBT rights?
Lauren Silich: Absolutely. Without a doubt. I really believe, quite honestly, that we all, everyone who is a citizen of the United States, deserves to have the same freedoms. I believe that if we have healthy homes and love for our kids, and we're raising kids or no kids or whatever, if we all just… my answer to that question is yes. I am a huge supporter. I'm a Chicagoan, I have friends in the gay community, and I know that love exists anywhere.
When I opened this restaurant, I knew that the CEO, that the family was very conservative. And just like they have a right to believe what they believe, so do I and so do you and so does everybody else.
WCT: Have you taken a hit financially from this controversy?
Lauren Silich: We haven't. We're actually up. I'm not going to lie, I didn't know what to expect. So it's been interesting to see, but we are up.
WCT: Is there anything you want to add?
Lauren Silich: I would just challenge anybody who is super passionate about it to come into the restaurant and ask for me. I'm always here. Come in and just talk to me about it. If at the end of the conversation, you decide not to come in here and spend your money, I think that's fine… I would just challenge the LGBT community to get to know me and be well-rounded about all the things that Chick-fil-A does and then make a decision. If that decision means not coming here or never going to a Chick-fil-A again, I have to support that. That's America. That's our right.