Cars split into two rows inched around the corner at the fast-food restaurant Wednesday afternoon, similar at first to any other big-box chain dotted along Broad Street.
On a double-take, the looks-like-new sign comes into view, squeaky-clean …
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On a double-take, the looks-like-new sign comes into view, squeaky-clean windows sitting behind drive-thru employees who, following their company's iconic business model, walked car to car down the line, taking orders on a tablet in the suddenly chilly Sumter weather.
It was 1:50 p.m. at Chick-fil-A. While the lunch rush is usually over by then, chicken-craving customers continued to line the drive-thru and fill the indoor sit-down space during Sumter's only freestanding branch's first official day of operation since it closed on Sept. 29 to renovate and upgrade the entire venue, inside and out. Options had been limited to visiting the mini-branch at the Sumter Mall and either going inside or attempting the Mobile One app and waiting at a drive-up in the parking lot.
"We pretty much gutted the whole thing," said Jacob Burleson, general manager of the branch at 1170 Broad St.
Possibly the first new feature customers will notice - this was the first major renovation at the store since its 2002 opening - is the dual-lane drive-thru, which all new Chick-fil-A locations and myriad other fast-food companies have. The line may have wrapped around half the building, but it flowed.
Burleson said having two lanes lowers frustration levels and increases efficiency.
"Everyone's glad to be back to this location, especially the drive-thru workers," he said.
Other updated features include a new, 800-square-foot-larger kitchen and walking space behind the counter and new - and more - monitors to streamline the process of getting an order from the speaker to the tray.
An estimated $800,000 was put into revamping the building.
About 85 employees are based at the standalone location, Burleson said, and he is still hiring.
The customer side of the building also received a face-lift, with new tile throughout, new booths along the sides, new bathrooms and a new playground.
"There's more privacy for people to have personal conversations and not be invaded by noise or other guests," Hospitality Director and Dining Room Manager Dorothy Skipper said. "And it's brighter."
Customers can choose between low-seating tables, booths, hi-tops or an eight-person banquet table - a new feature set in the middle of the dining space of which Skipper said she is especially proud.
The table, taller and lighter than the neutral-colored tops and booths and fire truck red hi-top chairs along the windows, was made from re-purposed wood from old, abandoned houses. Hanging above the table is a rectangular fixture made of Coca-Cola bottles inside glass - a nod to Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and his Atlanta, Georgia, roots.
"This is more than just a fast-food restaurant," Skipper said. "We really want to create the opportunity to really connect with guests and be more personal."
Two of those guests confirmed Skipper's hopes for what their experience would be.
"The food was great, as always. It's decorated really nicely," said Elizabeth Nesbitt, who lives in Lynchburg.
Nesbitt, who ordered the grilled chicken wrap, said the customer service was also "great. But it always was."
Sandy Waters, of Sumter, ate the tortilla soup, an annual menu item that returns each fall.
"I was here yesterday, too," she said.
It seems, maybe, she was not the only one.
The store's Burleson said the soft opening they held Tuesday picked up steam as the day continued.
"By 5 [p.m.]," he said, "by the numbers, everyone knew we were open."
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