On a pleasantly bright summer day in Fort Worth, Texas, I had the privilege of going to the first LEED Gold certified Chick-fil-a in the state. The experience as a restaurant was perfect, which is the whole point of making a business out of food service. But it was what was going on behind the scenes I was most interested in, and I was truly nothing short of impressed at the lengths the contractors, workers, and management—upper and lower—were going to truly make this restaurant one of a kind (though hopefully not alone in a few years).
My fixation on the Montgomery Plaza Chick-fil-a in Fort Worth has been present for the past few weeks, as evidenced by the articles written which you can see on my profile page and just scrolling on down to the affiliated articles listing. But the time has come to say farewell to the topic with my exclusive interview with Mr. Bruce Slone, the owner of the LEED Gold store, who kindly took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his experience working with green technology and how it can be beneficial for business owners as well as the world.
Ian Nafziger (Ian): Just to get some personal background, where did you come from? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Bruce Slone (Bruce): Well, I grew up in Texas. I had a 16 year career with J.C. Penny before I started a career here with Chick-fil-a, which I have had a 19 year relationship with, so far.
Ian: So you started working here in the mid-80s? Sorry, my math is terrible. <laughter>
Bruce: 1996 is when I became an operator.
Ian: Now, I saw on your profile on the individual store website that this is the second store you have owned.
Bruce: The third.
Ian: The third!
Bruce: Yes. The first I owned was in Ridgmar Mall, and I no longer own that one. The second was in Heights Corner, and that one opened in December of 2002. Then I got this one. I still own the store in Heights Corner, and this store opened St. Patrick’s Day, 2011.
Ian: Alright. And how did you land this particularly landmark gig for the state of Texas?
Bruce: I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Chick-fil-a was looking for an opportunity to open a LEED gold status store, and it was kind of a perfect storm of location, the ability to meet Gold status, and it was closest to my other restaurant. That’s just kind of how it goes. If something is close, and you are qualified to have a second unit, then they give it to you.
Ian: So how did they determine that you were qualified for it, then?
Bruce Slone: Based on performance of previous restaurants.
Ian: Which I’m assuming was just superb, outstanding.
Bruce: That’s what they told me. <laugh>
Ian: <laugh> Alright. So, I just have to ask if you can shed any light on the background of this particular store. When did Chick-fil-a corporate in Atlanta begin making moves to have this store opened?
Bruce: I became aware of it in February of 2009.
Ian: And when was the project for this store approved? When did they decide to build this one?
Bruce: It was in, I believe, during the springtime of 2010.
Ian: And why Fort Worth? What was the mentality behind the choice?
Bruce: Well, they liked the location here because of the fact that this was kind of a recycled plot of land. This used to be the regional headquarters of Montgomery Ward, and this also used to be a regional shipping area for catalogue sales, and all back here was a train yard for shipping their stuff all around the region. So there was a lot of oil seepage on the ground, and this was an opportunity to reuse the land. The other reason they chose this location was the railroad track over here. In the near future—I don’t know when because that’s the government we’re talking about—commuter trains are going to be coming through here. So, it was for those reasons, they chose this location.
Ian: Nice. So you guys are going to have a TRE train station right outside!
Bruce: I’m looking forward to it.
Ian: That is pretty awesome. I would imagine that would promote a lot of awareness for the TRE and encourage more people to use it. So, when did construction begin?
Bruce: October of 2010.
Ian: And when was it finished?
Bruce: A week before the grand opening during the first week of March, 2011.
Ian: How rigorous was the process in becoming LEED certified?
Bruce: Well, it is rigorous. The standards are set so high that you can’t just fall in a hole and say, “Whoa, hey, we’re Gold status.” It is difficult to get. This was a thing that was negotiated by the planners of the building and Chick-fil-a, Inc. I was not involved in those negotiations, but through some conversations I did have them, I was like, “How about this? Does this count? Okay, let’s do this, and this is what we need to do.” You know, those kinds of conversations took place.
Ian: Okay. How long did it take between the opening and certification?
Bruce: Well, plans were in place before construction took place. But between 2009 when I first heard that a restaurant was coming here and 2010 when construction began, I suspect LEED Gold status was being planned for that far back. It is something that takes quite a bit of time, and it has to be part of the planning, part of the blueprint, part of the equipment. There were certain things that we did with the foundation, with the cistern out there that had to go in the ground. So, I get a feeling that they knew that is probably what they were going to do back in 2009.
Ian: Okay. When did it become official, then?
Bruce: It became official in 2010, I believe, when they announced it.
Ian: Before construction even began?
Bruce: Oh yes. This restaurant was designed specifically by the architects to meet the needs for Gold status. So, when they designed the skylights, when they designed the cistern, when they designed the landscaping and everything, all that was before a single blade was ever turned. So they had it all planned.
Ian: Yeah, he was talking about the landscaping earlier and the seepage irrigation system out there.
Bruce: Did he tell you about the liner on the roof?
Ian: No, he didn’t.
Bruce: Okay. There is a liner that is just like the liner of an above-ground storm drain. It collects all the water and funnels it down into the cistern. So, the landscaping is high heat-tolerance, local-type plants, our goal is to water them completely with water we have collected. In times of drought, sometimes we have to use the the city water, but most of the time it’s run-off.
Ian: So, I’m assuming that this store was already LEED certified when you took over, right?
Bruce: Actually, we didn’t get awarded the certification until a year after we opened. We knew we had met the qualifications, but the timing of the paperwork and the approval and all that, it was a long process. So, we actually weren’t awarded the plaque until our first year anniversary. There was a big ceremony and everything.
Ian: On your anniversary! Nice. So, it really worked out nicely even if it was tardy.
Bruce: We would have loved to have had it when we opened, instead of waiting that long.
Ian: Naturally, of course. So, how did it feel on that day when it really became official? How did you feel? Was it a certain sense of accomplishment, or what?
Bruce: Absolutely, it is a sense of accomplishment to be the owner of the first in Texas. It is humbling. It is something to be proud of. There is something about going green that can make you more profitable, and I would love to see other businessmen do these same kinds of things. This restaurant was kind of a laboratory for Chick-fil-a, so they were just throwing a lot of things out there and figuring what could work, what was profitable, and what wasn’t. All that stuff that turned out to be too expensive, or didn’t work that well, those were filtered out. But everything that worked, like the skylights, the cistern, they want to use those things in future restaurants. So, I’m proud of being the one who has really helped the entire corporation.
Ian: Nice. Just out of curiosity, what were some of the things that didn’t quite work out?
Bruce: Well, we got some of our energy efficient equipment. In some cases, it’s more sophisticated than what we actually need, and it’s very difficult in a lot of cases to repair, so there are a lot of expenses involved there. The other thing I thought was really cool, though, is that 20% of the materials in this building were recycled material. All the tile in the floor was recycled.
Ian: And in the play area! We were in there earlier, and I was amazed to learn that all that flooring was made from recycled tires, and rubber is one of the toughest materials to recycle, really. It’s refreshing to see it being reused all over again rather than filling up valuable space in our landfills.
Bruce: Sure. Absolutely.
Ian: So, grand opening was St. Patty’s Day 2011. What were your first year sales that year?
Bruce: Well, Chick-fil-a has asked me not to disclose that information. But I can say that it was comparable to any other Chick-fil-a that opened that year.
Ian: So, what was the public response to LEED certification and all the things that went into the building of this store?
Bruce: Very positive, for the most part, which was a little bit surprising. This is Texas, and it’s not made up of the same type of people that live in places like California or Colorado that are way more green conscious. But, it was surprisingly refreshing to see as many people as we did appreciate and care about it.
Ian: Good! And what about your workers?
Bruce: I think they take pride working for a store that has that kind of certification. When we recycle the cups, they make sure it goes in the right bin. I see team members doing that all the time.
Ian: Nice. So, this is probably kind of an obvious question, but, you know, just for the sake of the readers, what would you say is the main goal of the store? Is it here to serve food, make money, or be a steward to the local environment?
Bruce: I would say yes to all of those. If it was not profitable, we couldn’t be here in the long term. But because it is profitable, we can be a good member of the community and give back, and treat the environment with the respect it deserves.
Ian: Okay. Now, my primary audience is made up of other business owners who may try to implement some green technology into their business. So, as a business owner, for them, what is the financial outlook as far as that is concerned? Because it is run in a different kind of way, how does it affect the way you approach business?
Bruce: Not really very different. I mean, I own two restaurants, and I run both of them the same way. My expenses are pretty much the same at both restaurants. They are just spent in different ways.
Ian: Alright. Would you say that it is easier, or better, to run a traditional store with traditional implements, or a store like this that uses more green technology?
Bruce: They both have their special challenges. The things I spend more money on in a green store, I don’t spend as much on a regular store. Vice versa, I might spend more money on electricity in a non-green store than I do in a green store. So, sometimes, the green things cost a bit more, but the savings offset that, so that it is comparable to a store that doesn’t have the same technologies.
Ian: Okay. Now, just a personal question here, not talking for Chick-fil-a as a whole, or even the store as a whole, just you yourself. Do you believe in being a good steward to the environment?
Ian: And do your workers and managers feel the same way?
Bruce: I would say on the whole they do.
Ian: Okay. Now, I did do some research before coming here today, and I have found that Chick-fil-a is one of the first quick service chains to begin implementing green policies on a wide scale. So, is it paying off, and do you think competitors will begin trying to copy Chick-fil-a’s model?
Bruce: Well, what you’re talking about has been in the test phase since the early part of August. Certain parts of the country are gonna go full scale on recycling, and the D/FW area is one of those areas that are going to be doing that. So, has it paid off? I would say that Chick-fil-a wouldn’t test it, wouldn’t go far with it, if it wasn’t paying off and didn’t have full confidence that was going to be a good initiative.
Ian: Okay. So, is it your opinion, then, that other quick service chains will start trying to copy you guys sometime in the near future?
Bruce: If they want to keep up with us, they probably will. <laughter>
Ian: <laughter> Alright. So, this question is probably the biggie. Just talking about you personally, again, because I remember the fiasco that was Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day, and I don’t want to see people boycotting your store or something. So, is global warming a pertinent issue to you? Do you believe in the science, or are you more of a skeptic?
Bruce: Well, just speaking for myself, and not the whole of Chick-fil-a or my managers or staff, I haven’t seen any evidence today that it’s because of man. Yes, there is climate change, but there always has been throughout the years. So, I’m waiting for that evidence that will convince me that it’s totally man’s fault. But I think God is in control, and things are working out just as He planned.
Ian: Has running the store been testing or altering your convictions in some form or fashion?
Bruce: It has not been altering my convictions of taking care of the environment. Whether you believe that global warming or climate change is occurring because of man or not, you can still believe in taking care of your back yard, your city, your country. So, I do believe in a clean environment, I do believe in leaving it right for my children and their children, and I believe in taking care of the environment.
Ian: I can respect that, absolutely.
Bruce: And that goes back all the way to the days when I was growing up, and learned not to throw trash out the car window. I was the type of guy who would stop and pick it up. Don’t mess with Texas!
Ian: Ah yeah! <chuckle> Alright. So, now getting off the heavy topics like that. You said that Chick-fil-a opened two more similar stores before this one, and they are implementing green policies on a wider scale. So, that comes with the assumption that they are planning to build more stores like this one. Is that accurate?
Bruce: Yes. There are more stores currently on the books. I know one of them is going to be in Waco, and there is another one in the planning stages somewhere in north Dallas that, I believe, is going to hold Silver status. I might be wrong, though. They don’t call me and ask me about it.
Ian: What is your long term plan for the continuing success of the store? Can you divulge a little bit on that?
Bruce: Treat every customer with honor, dignity, and respect. Serve a great product in a speedy manner. Those two things right there are the secrets of a successful business.
Ian: Alright. Are there any other plans in the works to make this store greener than it already is?
Bruce: Well, we’re taking part in that recycling initiative for the whole Metroplex. That’s all I know about. There’s not a whole lot more we can do. But I’m sure that more technology is coming in the future and we will study that technology to see if it will be profitable.
Ian: Have you considered trying to live off the grid with solar panels or wind turbines or something like that?
Bruce: I asked about that when we opened the restaurant, and I think the answer was that it was not under consideration at that time. But I wouldn’t be against it! That’s probably a great money saver.
Ian: Oh yeah. I’ve been doing some research on wind energy for another article I’m working on. Apparently, if you build a turbine 100 feet up, then you generate enough electricity to power 100,000 houses for an entire year. And of course, we’re talking about the giant turbines you see in the Midwest and stuff. I don’t know anything about the small personal turbines, but I imagine it would be, proportionally, about the same.
Bruce: That would be terrific. But I just need to make clear that I do not own the building, unfortunately. Chick-fil-a does. So, the approval has to come through them. It’s their choice entirely about what to install. I’m a beneficiary only.
Ian: Of course, I understand. Well, I think we’re about done, so I just need to ask. What’s your favorite National Park? Do you like going out to them?
Bruce: Oh, Yellowstone. Absolutely beautiful country, and pristine. I haven’t been back in many years, though, but it’s on my to-do list.
Ian: Awesome. Well, thank you very much for your time, Mr. Slone. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Bruce: The pleasure was all mine, Ian. Thank you very much.
Ian: Is there anything else you would like the readers to know?
Bruce: We’re always glad to have people come down, and to give tours as well. We are located on Montgomery Plaza, 549 Carroll St. in Fort Worth. You can call us at 817-332-7111. We are open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Ian: Awesome. Well, thank you very much, and have a good day.
This concludes my series about the Montgomery Plaza Chick-fil-a. I just want to quickly thank Mr. Slone for speaking with me, and all the wonderful people I met in my tour of the facility. Next week, I’m going to present an exclusive phone interview with Mrs. Sophie Uliano, the Hollywood Queen of Green and the New York Times bestselling author of Gorgeously Green.