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Hollywood Chick-fil-A owner: 'Some of our guests are upset'

July 27, 2012 |  1:30 pm

Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy's public opposition to gay marriage has thrust the chicken chain's local franchisees, such as Jeremiah Cillpam, into the crossfire of a bitter debate that has pitted the Muppets against Mike Huckabee

Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy's public opposition to gay marriage has thrust the restaurant chain's local franchisees into the crossfire of a bitter debate that has pitted the Muppets against Mike Huckabee. 

After 35 protesters crashed the grand opening of a Laguna Hills Chick-fil-A outlet on Thursday, a Hollywood-area franchise owner is trying to carve out some middle ground.

Jeremiah Cillpam's Chick-fil-A restaurant on Sunset Boulevard straddles two of the city's largest LGBT populations, in Hollywood and West Hollywood. A 2002 demographic profile of West Hollywood identified 41% of the city's population as gay or bisexual males.

Cillpam said that after hearing of the protests Thursday, he circulated a letter that night on the restaurant's Facebook page, stating his intention to run his business apolitically.

"We strive to ensure that every guest receives amazing food and service regardless of belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender," he wrote.

Cillpam said he wrote the letter because he wanted to put a human face on his business. Both Cathy and the LGBT community have a right to free speech, he said.

"I recognize that I have a community that has gays and lesbians, and I love my community," he said.

The last few days have been relatively normal, Cillpam said, noting that he's fielded some angry phone calls and entertained a lone protester but that business remains steady.

"Customers have just been eating chicken," he said.

Online, its a different story. The franchise's Yelp site has received 13 one- or two-star reviews in the last week, mostly for reasons unrelated to food or service. User David V's one-star review of the Hollywood franchise: "Shame on Chick-fil-a for their anti-gay support."

Matthew T. of Los Angeles also gave a one-star review, writing, "This is a company of bigots pushing unhealthy products."

As of Friday morning, Cillpam's post on the restaurant's Facebook page has 643 comments, 2,074 likes and more than 450 shares. The positive and the negative reactions seem to be canceling each other out, he said.

Nationally, the Jim Henson Co., which makes "The Muppets," has severed ties with the chain because of the controversy. But former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has urged opponents of gay marriage to eat at Chick-fil-A on Aug. 1. Gay-marriage supporters are planning to flock to the chain's restaurants two days later for a "National Same-Sex Kiss Day."

On both days, Cillpam said, he expects to do what he does every day: serve up trays of chicken sandwiches and waffle fries.


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-- Frank Shyong

Photo: Jeremiah Cillpam, owner of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Hollywood, poses with some of the food the restaurant serves. Credit: Jeremiah Cillpam