Truett Cathy, the founder and chairman of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, was a successful businessman and one of the country’s most generous philanthropists, sharing his fortune primarily with disadvantaged children.
Born on March 14, 1921, in Atlanta, Samuel Truett Cathy developed a philosophy early in life, for which he credited his success, to work hard and place his trust in God. His father, an insurance salesman, was beaten financially and emotionally by the Great Depression, and as a result Cathy looked to his mother for emotional support. His mother also provided financial support for the family, renting a house and taking in boarders. Cathy helped the family by selling Coca-Cola, operating a paper route, and performing odd jobs.
After serving in the army Cathy opened the Dwarf Grill (so named because the restaurant had only ten stools and four tables) in the small Atlanta suburb of Hapeville in 1946. In 1949 he married Jeannette McNeill, and the couple later had three children—Dan, Don, and Trudy. In 1961 Cathy developed the product that would make his fortune—the pressure-cooked chicken breast sandwich. In 1967, soon after creating the sandwich, Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A restaurant, in the Greenbriar Shopping Center in Atlanta.
With only occasional setbacks the company has become one of the largest privately owned restaurant chains in the country. By 2014 Chick-fil-A included more than 1,800 restaurants in the United States. Despite this success, Cathy maintained that his company focused on people rather than profits, and for that reason Chick-fil-A would remain closed on Sundays, use an innovative formula for developing managers and restaurants, and provide college scholarships to employees.
A Sunday school teacher of thirteen-year-old boys for more than fifty years, Cathy and his wife took in more than 150 foster children. In 1984 he established the WinShape Center Foundation and the WinShape Homes program, consisting of fourteen foster homes (nine in Georgia, three in Tennessee, one in Alabama, and one in Brazil) created to provide a caring family environment for children whom Cathy described as “victims of circumstances.”
The foundation also awards twenty to thirty students each year with scholarships to Berry College in Rome (jointly funded by the college), and through its Leadership Scholarship Program, Chick-fil-A has contributed millions of dollars in college aid to restaurant employees. WinShape Camps is another component of the foundation, providing two weeks of summer camp at Berry College for boys and girls.
Cathy wrote about his business practices and personal philosophy in several books. His published titles include Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People (2002), The Generosity Factor (2002), Chick-fil-A, Inc. (1998), and It’s Easier to Succeed Than to Fail (1989). Cathy was named a Georgia Trustee in 2013, an honor conferred by the Georgia Historical Society and the Office of the Governor.
Cathy died on September 8, 2014, in Clayton County at the age of ninety-three.