Chick-fil-A opens 1st Toronto location to adoring customers, angry protesters

A group of outraged protesters and a long line of adoring fans welcomed a controversial U.S. fast-food chain to Toronto on Friday, the first franchised Chick-fil-A in Canada.

The U.S. chain has plans to open 15 locations around the Greater Toronto Area in the coming years

A group of protesters crashed the opening of Chik-fil-A's first Toronto location Friday morning. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

A controversial U.S. fast-food chain has opened in downtown Toronto to a long line of customers, but also to a group of outraged protesters.

Chick-fil-A Inc., which is known for both its fried chicken sandwiches and its ownership's religious beliefs, started serving up chicken dishes Friday morning. It's the first franchised location in Canada, opening five years after a Chick-fil-A started up at the Calgary airport before recently closing.

When the Toronto restaurant opened at 10:30 a.m. ET, customers streamed in as protesters chanted "shame" outside the front doors.

Some held signs that said "cluck off" in the restaurant's famous cursive font.

"We won't allow hateful rhetoric to be here," said Justin Khan, who works at The 519, an LGBTQ community centre in an area of Toronto known as the gay village, just a few blocks from the restaurant. 

"The fact that Chick-fil-A is opening on the streets of Toronto is something that is quite alarming."

Khan went on to accuse the corporation of promoting "hate and discrimination" against the LGBTQ community.

But franchise owner Wilson Yang said in a statement: "We respect people's right to share their opinions and want all Torontonians to know they are welcome at Chick-fil-A Yonge & Bloor.

"Our focus is on offering a welcoming and respectful environment for our guests and team members, and we encourage people to give us a try."

The company has plans to establish about 15 locations around the Greater Toronto Area over the next five years.

Owner opposed same-sex marriage

Chick-fil-A is owned by the Cathy family, a billionaire evangelical Southern Baptist clan based in Atlanta.

Company president Dan Cathy, the son of Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, generated a firestorm of controversy in 2012 when he spoke out against same-sex marriage and in favour of "the biblical definition of the family unit."

When the U.S. Supreme Court chose to support same-sex marriage a year later, Cathy tweeted the "founding fathers would be ashamed of our generation."

Chik-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, left, and his son Dan Cathy pose for a photo after the company passed the $3-billion US sales mark in 2009. (Elissa Eubanks/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Cathys have also donated millions of dollars to groups that oppose same-sex marriage.

"They've fought against equal rights in the states, and if they're here, they're probably going to do the same," said Toronto protester Tommy King.

'I'm not here to support the policy of the owner'

While the restaurant's grand opening was marred by protests, dozens more who waited in line said they were unbothered by the controversy.

"I've always wanted to try it, and the fact that it's opening in Toronto, I'm so excited," said Amanda Luciano, who joined the lineup at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday.

"It's not going to bother me, it's not going to change my opinion or my views," she said of the protests.

Chik-fil-A customer Amanda Luciano waited in line for about 12 hours before the restaurant's grand opening in Toronto. (CBC)

Another fan who camped overnight said customers should be able to enjoy the restaurant's food without endorsing the ownership's beliefs.

"I do not agree with their ideology and the policies of the owners, but I'm not here to support the policy of the owner. I'm here to have a meal that I really enjoy," Tony Onder told CBC News.

Others in line said they were eagerly anticipating the opening and were not aware of the company's controversial history.

"I'm not fully informed on all that's going on. All I know is I like fried chicken," said Bilal Dawson.

WIth files from The Associated Press