An interview with Drew Caffrey of Chick-fil-A at Waverly Place in Cary
Today we visit with Drew Caffrey who tells us about his long and sometimes arduous journey to personal and professional excellence as a restauranteur in our part of Wake County.
Drew grew up in the mountain town of Weaverville near Asheville where he attended North Buncombe High school before moving onto NC State University in Raleigh where he now resides with his family. He started working in the food service sector at an early age as a pizza delivery driver and as a server in restaurants to help pay bills and help his family. In 2005, while still in college, he answered a want-ad for a local Chick-fil-A and soon found himself learning all the facets of working at Chick-fil-A. He had no idea at that time that he would be someday be working for Chick-fil-A as a career. He continued working for them his last 2 years in college, and then helped open new restaurants nation-wide, returning to the Triangle in 2012 as a Chick-fil-A Operator there before moving on to his “dream” job – Operator of Chick-fil-A at Waverly Place in Cary!
Drew, we certainly thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to tell us about your dream of operating your very own Chick-fil-A and how you were able to finally make your dream come true.
We know you graduated from NC State in Raleigh and that you started working at a Chick-fil-A while still in school. The combination of classes and working must have been difficult. What sticks out in your mind about your first few years at school?
Well, I was able to get good grades in high school without having to put in much effort, but l struggled a bit my first couple of years at State due to lack of good study habits. But looking back, these were truly the best of times, and also the most difficult times. I learned that to be successful, I would need to devote more time to my studies, be an active participant in class, and most importantly not be afraid to ask for help. One thing I appreciated about my professors at State is that they would not hold your hand and seek you out, and it was up to us to ask for their help and take initiative to improve our understanding of a subject.
What about the cost of your education?
Growing up our family did not have a ton of money so while at State I always had a job to help pay the bills. I worked as a delivery driver for a pizza restaurant for a while and would want to be the fastest driver who took the most runs of the night. And when I was a server elsewhere, I always wanted to have the most tables without sacrificing genuine hospitality and service for our guests. Even today, competitive nature is one of the top qualities I look for in potential team members at Chick-fil-A Waverly Place.
Can you tell us anything else about your early experience in the restaurant business?
Despite loving working at restaurants during my college career, there were some aspects of the business I really did not like. The culture at some restaurants where I worked was horrible. The language that employees used, and what they talked about was deplorable, and drug and alcohol use was prevalent.
We are so sorry to hear about that and that must have been very disconcerting. In spite of that you continued on your chosen path, so how did you start working for a Chick-fil-A?
Good Question - In 2005, I was doing a student newspaper crossword puzzle while waiting for class to start and I came across a want ad for Chick-fil-A at North Hills. It just so happened that in that semester I had a nice gap in classes at lunchtime and when saw that Chick-fil-A was hiring people to work 11-2, I applied. Thankfully, I was hired and started working lunches, cutting and squeezing lemons for lemonade, and working on the register. I was very fortunate, because the restaurant had just opened the month before and there was not really an established leadership team. My operator, there, who is now at Cameron Village, thought he saw something special in me and asked me to lead some night shifts. At the very beginning I had no idea what I was doing, but he just wanted me to do my best and treat people well. I must have done enough because I was soon promoted to manager. I will always be appreciative to him for giving me this opportunity.
What else can you tell us about your early time at Chick-fil-A?
Only that when I first started at Chick-fil-A, I had no idea that I would be doing this as a living. In a very short time, I realized that I loved Chick-fil-A and how fortunate I was to be given this opportunity.
You mentioned a few times about the opportunity you were given. What makes this something really special?
You might be interested to know that a CNBC article said that Chick-fil-A gets around 60,000 franchise inquiries annually and only selects around 75-80. I worked for them for two years in college, then two years after graduating including a year where I helped open around 20 new restaurants as part of a national grand opening team. Then, for the next 2 years I worked as an interim manager at different Chick-fil-As when they did not have owner/operators at these.
It sounds like you got a lot of varied experience traveling the country with Chick-fil-A. So how did you end up back here?
In the Spring of 2012, the operator of Chick-fil-A Cary Towne Center left for a Chick-fil-A in Myrtle Beach and I was selected for my first chance as an operator at Cary Towne Center. Being able to make it back home to the Triangle with Chick-fil-A was a dream come true. I knew if could work hard and do a good job there, perhaps an even greater opportunity would come down the road.
What about your family during all your traveling and the challenges that you faced during your early times with Chick-fil-A?
I am really glad you brought this subject up as I did not know if I should mention it.
I want to make it perfectly clear that without the understanding and support from my wife, I could have never seen this through. We were most fortunate that she had a great job with a marketing research firm in Durham, and her boss was always supportive of her traveling with me. Thankfully, since my wife was working, we were able to make it through some really tough times, and I never had to make a decision that would negatively affect my team or restaurant just to make sure I could put food on the table for our family.
After a couple years at Cary Towne Center, we were blessed to show some great results and I was selected to move to Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh. After a couple years there, I was selected to take over as operator of Chick-fil-A Waverly Place and transitioned there in May of 2019.
A wonderful story and we commend you for your dedication both to your company and its employees. So now that you operate your own Chick-fil-A I assume that you have profited from what you experienced at other restaurants you worked at earlier. What can you tell us about this?
You are correct! I make sure I know all my team members, and I have spent time with some of their families and have had them over to my house as well. Some have babysat for us, I have been to their weddings, and taken food to them in hospitals.
After what I saw early in my restaurant jobs, I was determined to be a better boss, a boss that I would want to work for, or more importantly - have my daughters work for. Being an employer that I would want my daughters to work for is a challenge that I take very seriously and work hard at it all the time. While I know that only a very small percentage of my team members may pursue Chick-fil-A as a career, my hope is that no matter what they do, they will look back on their time there and say “I really learned a lot at Chick-fil-A, and I am a better employee, spouse, parent, etc. today because I worked there”.
Can you tell us more about the Waverly Place location now that you have been there for a while?
Well it has really been a lot of fun as well as hard work after at Waverly Place and with the help of our team members there we have been able to hit some great goals. The company also allowed me to bring with me some employees from other locations and this was really a big help. I do not think another company might have done this for me and it showed me that they fully supported me and believed in me and what I could accomplish. As a result, we were able to assemble a great, high performing team in a short amount of time.
Any major issues you had to face upon your arrival at Waverly Place?
So, one of my first objectives was to be able to expedite the drive thru process to get our valued customers through quickly. The layout of this restaurant was a huge challenge and the parking lot is incredibly small compared to other Chick-fil-A restaurants. Before I got here, the average number of cars that could be processed during the peak hour was less than 90. We knew that if we could expedite that process, we could shatter that number even with a small, outdated lot. Our goal was 160 cars in the peak hour and with the help and buy in of the whole team, we got there in only one month!
You might also be interested to learn that we continue to improve and reinvent our drive-thru process because every time we hit a new car count record, there seems to be a new bottleneck we need to fix.
May I go back to NC State for a moment?
The reason I asked if I could go back to that point is that I just remembered a business class at State that talked about operations and bottlenecks, and even back then I remembered that this was something that interested me. These days, it is still not only interesting, but also applicable to our jobs at Waverly Place, and we can see the immediate results when we eliminate any kind of bottleneck.
Can you give us another example?
Be glad to - just recently, we have gotten so busy that we found that the cash cart where we rung all the car orders up could no longer keep up with the input from our outside iPad order takers. After visiting some other Chick-fil-A’s to observe what they were doing, we implemented a different system where the order takers process payment right at the car. This freed up our cash cart bottleneck and we went from maxing out at 232 cars at peak all the way up to 282cars! Our new goal now is to break 300, which only a handful of Chick-fil-A’s have ever done.
The Chick-fil-A’s at Roxboro Road and Lake Boone Trail have actually achieved this goal and I spent time with the operators at these locations learning from them. That’s another thing I love about the Chick-fil-A organization - the willingness of operators to work together to all get better as a brand instead of being worried that one store getting better will somehow harm another store’s business. I love the fellowship and knowledge that I get from other operators and we meet often which provides great synergy in all our restaurants.
I hate to diverge from this wonderful story for a moment, but I for one would like to know how your basketball and hockey promotions got started – and I am sure that our readers would too! Would you mind sharing your thoughts here?
Not at all. I knew this topic would come up and we are so proud to have been able to do this here.
So, by now you must realize that two of my favorite brands in the whole world are NC State and Chick-fil-A. The first gave me a great education and the second gave me the opportunity to put into practice what I learned there.
Several years back I started wondering how I could somehow merge the two together and maybe we could become a sponsor of State Athletics in the process. I remembered hearing about a foul shot promotion from an operator in Washington D.C. who was also a friend and I thought that something like this would be amazing at State men’s basketball games.
How difficult was this to get started?
It was actually a lot of hard work to get a promotion like this in place plus I had to get the other area Chick-fil-A operators to buy into it as well. That really turned out to be the easier part, as they had no problem with it even though there would obviously be a considerable effort and expense on their part as well as for me - their partnership has been just amazing!
For those of us who may not be familiar with how this works can you please explain?
We are entering our third year of this promotion where if a member of the opposing team misses two consecutive free throws in the final 8 minutes of the game, everyone gets a free Chick-fil-A Sandwich the following day. While I hoped this promotion would be a success, I was blown away by the reception that it has gotten. During the final 8 minutes of a home game, it is very common to hear chants of “we want chicken” when the opponent is at the line, and the eruption that happens after that second miss would rival any roar from any stadium nationwide.
I hesitate to say it. but sometimes the roar when the foul shots are missed seems to be greater than the cheers when we win the game!
Does this happen very often?
More than you might think and sometimes we try to help it a long a bit.
What do you mean?
We have sometimes been fortunate enough to get the Chick-fil-A Cow behind the basket to encourage some errant free throws. And Wolfpack Sports Properties have been amazing to work with and we hope to be partners for many years to come.
How bout them Canes?
Yes, how bout them Canes! Another awesome brand in the Triangle, the Carolina Hurricanes were already a partner when we teamed up with them for a similar promotion. In this case, after any home win fans can log into their Chick-fil-A One App right after the game and claim a free Chick-fil-A Sandwich to redeem the following day at any Triangle Chick-fil-A. Much like NC State, the Hurricanes have been an awesome partner and such a natural fit for our marketing model. We have found that Canes fans, like State fans, are super loyal and passionate about their teams and are more likely to support brands that partner with those teams.
And the Canes have such a young, fun bunch of players and should be a great team for many years to come. I think like most people who come to the Triangle, a lot of Canes players realize this is a pretty special place to live and want to stay here.
Great story Drew but let me see if I can stump you. Do you know what a Chick-fil-A “double header” giveaway is?
That’s right! I forgot all about this and glad you mentioned it. So, you know all Chick-fil-As are closed on Sundays. And let’s say that the Canes play and win on Saturday and fans log into the Chick-fil-A One App after the game to claim their Chick-fil-A Sandwich for the following day. But since we are all closed on Sundays they must wait until Monday. And on the next day (Sunday), there is a home State basketball game where a player from the opposing team misses those two so important foul shots. Again, since we are closed on Sunday it is certainly possible that someone might claim 2 sandwiches on Monday.
Drew, I can tell you from personal experience that this is not just a possibility – it has actually happened and thank you again for the time you have spent with us today. I know that our readers will certainly appreciate learning about all your experiences on your voyage to this special place where you want to be.
Drew Caffrey is the operator at the Chick-fil-A at Waverly Place in Cary
Address: 411 Colonades Way, Cary, NC 27518
Phone number: (919) 816-8222
Hours: Monday – Saturday 06:00 AM-09:00 PM. Closed Sunday