Truett realized his entrepreneurial potential early, first selling soft drinks at age 8 and later magazines before beginning his daily paper route at age 12. As a teenager, Truett (second from right) and his brother Ben (left) won several awards for signing up customers for The Atlanta Journal newspaper.
Truett was drafted into the U.S. Army immediately following high school graduation. He served in ordnance until he was discharged in 1945.
Truett (right) and his brother Ben grew to be more than just family. In May 1946, the Cathy brothers pooled their personal resources and borrowed money to open a restaurant in the south-Atlanta suburb of Hapeville. Tragically, Ben was killed in a plane crash two years later.
In 1948, Truett married Jeannette McNeil, whom he first met at age 8 while attending West End Baptist Church. Truett often credits Jeannette as being his biggest supporter, as she relentlessly pushed Truett to carry on with his faith and entrepreneurial spirit. Without her backing, Chick-fil-A may have never come to fruition.
Truett's first restaurant was so small - only 10 stools and four tables - that he and his brother decided to call the restaurant the Dwarf Grill (later renamed The Dwarf House). It was at The Dwarf House where Truett began experimenting with the chicken sandwich concept that eventually led to the Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich.
A devoted family man, Truett always made sure his three children (Dan, Bubba and Trudy) and wife, Jeanette, were his chief priorities.
A determined restauranteur, Truett overcame a number of setbacks that he experienced in the early days of his restaurant career. In 1960, his second restaurant, the Forest Park Dwarf House, burned to the ground. Many would have given up, but Truett persevered and continued with his dream.
Truett is credited with inventing the first fast-food chicken sandwich. He developed the recipe for the sandwich in the early 1960s and, as a result of the sandwich's popularity, he trademarked "Chick-fil-A" in 1963, started Chick-fil-A, Inc. in 1964, and founded the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain three years later.
Truett registered the "Chick-fil-A" name in 1963. He personally created the name, a play on the words "chicken fillet," with the "A" at the end representing "top quality." The logo has been updated a few times but remains similar to the original logo produced four decades ago.
Confident that he had created the perfect sandwich recipe, Truett cooked and served free samples of his Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich at tradeshows to get as many people as possible to taste his sandwich recipe. Helping Truett are his wife, Jeannette (second from right), and the second Chick-fil-A, Inc. employee, Brooksie Kirk (right).
Truett went to great lengths to get his sandwich in the mouths of as many people as possible. In 1964, he presented the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, with a Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich during her "whistle-stop" visit to Georgia.
Ready to begin promoting his new sandwich recipe, Truett hired his first Chick-fil-A employee, Brooksie Kirk, in 1964. Brooksie served as Truett's personal assistant for more than 25 years and was instrumental in the beginning of Chick-fil-A.
With more than 600 corporate employees today, it's hard to believe Chick-fil-A started with an office of just five people. The original Chick-fil-A staff included (from left to right) Jimmy Collins, Dale Dixon, Perry Ragsdale (currently Senior Vice President of Design and Construction), Brooksie Kirk and Truett.
Working alongside Truett for 32 years, James L.S. Collins (Jimmy) joined the young company as the third employee and was an integral part of Chick-fil-A's early and long-term success. He worked with Truett as executive vice president for 20 years before becoming president of the chain in 1988, a position he held until he retired in 2001.
The first Chick-fil-A restaurant opened in 1967 at Greenbriar Shopping Center in South Atlanta. Truett helped pioneer the concept of opening restaurants in shopping malls, a business strategy that is commonplace in malls and shopping centers today.
In 1973, Truett established a scholarship program to encourage Chick-fil-A restaurant employees to further their education. In addition to educational requirements, scholarship recipients must demonstrate a solid work ethic, be active in their schools and communities, and have strong leadership abilities. To date, Chick-fil-A has awarded nearly $25 million in $1,000 scholarships to eligible students.
Always encouraging the restaurant franchisees, whom Chick-fil-A calls Operators, to realize their full sales potential, Truett started his unique Symbol of Success incentive program in 1975. Since then, Truett and Chick-fil-A have awarded more than 850 cars to restaurant Operators who have met or exceeded their annual sales goals. In 1983, 46 Lincoln Mark VII cars were awarded in the Symbol of Success Program.
In 1982, Chick-fil-A moved its corporate office to 75 acres of beautiful hardwood forest adjacent to Interstate 85 South of Atlanta. Today, more than 600 employees work at Chick-fil-A's corporate office on Buffington Road.
In 1982, Chick-fil-A's Executive Committee established the chain's Corporate Purpose: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." The following Christmas, the Chick-fil-A staff presented Truett with the Corporate Purpose inscribed on a bronze plaque. The plaque was placed outside the front doors of Chick-fil-A's corporate headquarters.
In addition to product quality, Truett emphasizes the importance of the quality of people who represent Chick-fil-A inside and outside the restaurant. He maintains that a positive "My pleasure!" attitude is a must among restaurant Operators and team members, and stresses that loyal team members will build loyalty among Chick-fil-A customers.
In 1986, Chick-fil-A moved beyond malls and opened its first free-standing restaurant on North Druid Hills Road in Atlanta. Today, the free-standing locations make up almost half of Chick-fil-A's 1,400-plus restaurants.
Truett's wonderful sense of humor and promotional spirit often complement Chick-fil-A's marketing endeavors.
In 1992, Chick-fil-A began selling its popular sandwiches through a special licensing program. The chain works with respected foodservice contractors to open outlets (with limited menus) at non-traditional locations, including college campuses, airports, hospitals, and business and industry locations. Chick-fil-A products are served at approximately 200 licensed locations.
In 1995, Chick-fil-A introduced the "Eat Mor Chikin" Cows, and they have been making history ever since. Chick-fil-A has turned the theme into a long-standing, fully integrated marketing program, which includes billboards, in-store point-of-purchase materials, promotions, radio and TV advertising, and clothing and merchandise sales.
In 1996, Chick-fil-A commemorated Truett's 50 years in the restaurant business with the opening of Truett's Grill, a 1950's-style diner located just south of Atlanta in Morrow, Georgia. Chick-fil-A opened a second Truett's Grill location in 2003 in McDonough, Georgia and a third location in Griffin, GA in 2006.
Thirty-three years after he opened the doors to his first Chick-fil-A restaurant, Truett saw his company reach $1 billion in sales in 2000. Chick-fil-A's corporate staff celebrated the milestone with a special "Cow Tossing" event that year.
In November 2011, Chick-fil-A celebrated the opening of its 1,000th restaurant location, the Turner Hill Road Free-Standing Unit in Lithonia, Georgia, at Stonecrest Mall. The milestone came 34 years after Truett opened the first Chick-fil-A location in Atlanta's Greenbriar Shopping Center.
Throughout his career, Truett's personality and faith-based business philosophy have always intrigued the media. From local neighborhood newspaper to CNN, Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal and other national media outlets, journalists are captivated by Truett and his unique business principles.
In 2002, President George W. Bush invited Truett to join other business leaders for a roundtable discussion regarding corporate responsibility and ethics. Truett's invitation was extended following the launch of his book, Eat Mor Chickin: Inspire More People, in which he shares how he built Chick-fil-A into one of the leading restaurant chains in the country by adhering to his faith-based principles, values and good business ethics.
Truett has always had a special place in his heart for children. He taught Sunday school for more than 50 years and always looks for opportunities to help educate and develop children.
The "Eat Mor Chikin" Cows have become ambassadors for Chick-fil-A on billboards and as popular plush toys. Truett rarely travels without a sack full of plush Cow toys to hand out.
Since 1971, Truett has hosted an annual Operators Seminar for the growing family of restaurant Operators and corporate staff. Held in a different location around the country each year, Seminar is a special time for professional and personal reflection and for revisiting the values and culture of Chick-fil-A. Pictured here, Truett (right) and Dan Cathy (center) share a special memory with Operator Ralph Stephens at a recent Operators Seminar.
Truett's two sons Bubba (left) and Dan (right), and daughter Trudy (not pictured), have pledged to uphold their father's business principles and ideals. Under their leadership, Chick-fil-A will maintain its closed-on-Sunday policy, and the company will continue to emphasize customer service, product quality and consistency throughout the chain.
A key component of Chick-fil-A's success is its stable management team. Each of Chick-fil-A's senior corporate officers has been with the company for more than 20 years. Together, the team represents almost 200 combined years of Chick-fil-A service.
Truett celebrated 60 years in the restaurant industry with friends, family and business associates at the original Chick-fil-A Dwarf House restaurant in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville, Ga., where his restaurant career began. The event commemorated his 60-year legacy that is as much about values as business success. In honor of his 60-year accomplishment, Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue proclaimed Tuesday, may 23, 2006 "Truett Cathy Day" throughout the state.