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North Atherton Chick-fil-A Plans Second Drive-Through Lane, Kitchen Expansion

A solution may be in sight after years of mounting traffic backups and safety concerns stemming from long lines of cars waiting to enter the Chick-fil-A property at 1938 N. Atherton St. in Patton Township.

A second drive-through lane, expanded kitchen capacity, and a redesigned pickup area are among the plans for a “reinvestment project,” at the popular Centre Region location of the national fast-food chain, representatives from the Atlanta-based company’s corporate office told Patton Township supervisors on Wednesday night.

“This location was chosen due to its high volume and need for additional ordering capacity and production capacity,” Doug Wolfe, principal reinvestment lead for Chick-fil-A, said. “We’ve also heard the concerns of the community. We understand the safety concerns that we have at this location and a lot of that has gone into the design that we have and really kind of drives some of the reasons we will be requesting variances to be able to execute our primary strategy for this reinvestment plan.”

Chick-fil-A will be requesting several variances to move forward with the plan at a Zoning Hearing Board meeting on December 15. If the variances are approved, the company will submit development plans for approval early in 2022 and hopes to begin construction by mid-summer, Wolfe said.

Once construction begins, the restaurant will be closed for about 10 weeks.

“We don’t try to keep the restaurant open while we’re doing construction,” Wolfe said. “That just leads to too much congestion, too much confusion, and customer frustration.”

Traffic concerns have been an ongoing issue on the road outside the restaurant. Cars waiting to turn right into Chick-fil-A frequently back up onto North Atherton Street. Even though left turns into the property were made illegal a year ago, the township still sees cars lining up and attempting to make the turn across the road.

Patton Township Police Chief Tyler Jolley said that in November officers were at the location 43 times and issued 58 warnings. The primary issue has been drivers attempting to make the left turn, he said.

A traffic study recently commissioned by Chick-fil-A found the drive-through queue needs to accommodate at least 24 cars at a time, Wolfe said.

The plan calls for a dual drive-through wrapping all the way around the building, which would accommodate about 45 cars.

In addition to having two drive-through speaker boxes, a face-to-face ordering canopy would be added. During busy times, Chick-fil-A will use not only the speaker boxes, but also have four to six employees out taking orders on iPads.

As the drive-through lanes wrap around the building, the pickup area would have an outside meal delivery canopy. The single window would be replaced with a door that allows four to six employees to be delivering meals to vehicles.

“At the restaurant now when you pull up and receive your meal, it’s really one customer at one window,” Wolfe said. “What we have found most effective in our business now is to take out the window and install a sliding door and then a meal fulfillment zone. Instead of one guest receiving one meal at one window, there’s a drive-through door and team members can move out via the crosswalk into the team member zone.”

Chick-fil-A is seeking side and rear yard setback variances for the canopies and for rear yard screening requirements.

The plan also proposes a 400-square-foot building expansion to increase kitchen capacity.

“This is really geared to increase our production capacity and speed of service,” Wolfe said.

The project also would involve a “brand image refresh” for the property, with updated interior finishes, seating and signage.

The State College area is hardly alone in seeing traffic issues from a Chick-fil-A property.

Wolfe said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, about 50% of the company’s transactions were at drive-throughs. That increased substantially during the pandemic and has continued even as dining rooms reopened.

“We were able to take some of the [things] that we have learned through COVID, one of them being that this dual drive through concept,” Wolfe said. “We had a couple locations where we tried it out early on. I think the first one I did was June or July of 2020 and it was an immediate success, an immediate impact on throughput but then also that impact on throughput translated back into our ordering capacity, back into stacking on site.”

The proposed plan does not specifically address the left-turn issue on North Atherton Street, which PennDOT owns and would need to perform any structural changes. Wolfe said there were some discussions about installing a hard median, but concerns arose about impacts on businesses across the street.

Left-turning traffic was included in the traffic study, Wolfe said, and the additional drive-through capacity may alleviate the issue.

“I think we’re all on the same page of what we want,” Supervisor Elliot Abrams said. “We want the restaurant to continue to be successful, if not more successful, and we also want everybody in the township to be safe… Hopefully, what you’re planning there will actually eliminate or reduce the need for calling that left turn illegal. If you have two lanes to pick up the people and they can go through then it doesn’t matter that they’re coming in from the left. Let them.

“The only reason for restricting it is that you can get stuck there and if the traffic’s out on the first lane of the road to turn in from the correct way they can’t get through, and it’s just asking for an accident. This way you’ll be serving everybody faster, they’ll get their wonderful food faster and there will be less of a congestion there. So I just hope the plan does exactly that.”

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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