MANATEE -- Chick-fil-A supporters came out in droves Wednesday to the chain's two restaurants in Manatee County in a show of support for the fast-food restaurant.
Fans of chicken and opponents of gay marriage alike dominated the scenes of the two area locations for what became a national appreciation day for the restaurant, which has drawn recent criticism because of public comments of the corporation's owners.
But critics of the chain Wednesday were far and few between at the two restaurants. Not one protester was spotted by Herald reporters rallying in opposition to the company's political and religious stances.
At DeSoto Square mall in Bradenton, long lines of patrons wrapped around the entire food court.
Security guards at the main entrance kept any protests at bay and immediately denied a Bradenton Herald reporter access to the property.
The scene at Chick-fil-A
in the Creekwood Crossing shopping plaza in East Manatee also was bumper-to-bumper. Traffic on State Road 70 was backed up most of the afternoon, and restaurant workers were walking the parking lot to take orders from the overflow of crowds who couldn't make it inside.
Chick-fil-A employee Drew Douglas said he has never seen the place that busy before.
Others who came out in support of the restaurant also were glad to see the strong turnout.
"It's great," said Mitsy Sutherland of East Manatee. "It shows you what people can stand up for."
The restaurants were not offering any unusual deals or giving away free food. The crowds were purely a response from fans in what has become a biblical battle waged with southern-fried chicken sandwiches.
"It's amazing," said Tiona Wilson of Bradenton. "Jesus would be proud."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, declared Wednesday national "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day."
Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press last month that the Atlanta-based company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." That unleashed a torrent of criticism from gay rights groups and others, who have called for boycotts of the chain and spawned efforts to block the chain from opening new stores.
Critics of the company's stance are planning "Kiss Mor Chiks" demonstrations Friday, when they are encouraging people of the same sex to show up at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country and kiss each other.