POCATELLO — The staff at the new Chick-fil-A restaurant inside of Idaho State University’s Pond Student Union building made sure that Shane Hunt got the first sandwich on the eatery’s opening morning, Nov. 10.
Hunt is the dean of ISU’s College of Business, but he’s known more widely as “the guy from that Chick-fil-A commercial.” The commercial features Hunt sitting on a red couch with a manager from the Arkansas State University Chick-fil-A location.
In the commercial, Hunt explains he’s taken a job in Idaho but laments, “When you go four or five times a week to the same place you get to know people by name.”
The manager tells how his staff threw Hunt a “farewell he would never forget,” and the commercial ends with Hunt giving the manager a large sack of Idaho potatoes.
Hunt, who moved to Idaho a year and a half ago, has been recognized several times from the advertisement, most recently at the Nov. 5 ISU game in Provo, Utah, against Brigham Young University. An 81-year-old woman tapped him on the shoulder and said, “My son and I are certain we saw you in a commercial.”
Back at Arkansas State University, Hunt dined at Chick-fil-A every weekday in which he didn’t have a lunch meeting — and sometimes he’d stop by for breakfast, too. He explained it’s the only food he never tires of eating.
“I’ve had over the years hundreds, if not thousands, of chicken sandwiches, and I have never had a bad one. I have never had one that wasn’t fresh,” Hunt said, explaining why he’s excited that his go-to dining option has opened in his new community.
To make his meals a bit more healthy, Hunt always orders fruit as his side and a Diet Dr. Pepper.
Laura Blad, wife of Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad, was among the first customers in a long line on the opening morning. She grew up in the South and has been a fan of Chick-fil-A for years. Laura, who works as an administrative assistant with ISU’s engineering department, also picked up a meal for the office manager, who had never tried Chick-fil-A before.
“When Brian first became mayor, the paper came and interviewed us and they asked what we wanted and what our vision was for his first term, and the kids and I said, ‘All we want is Chick-fil-A,’” Laura recalled.
Her husband answered that he hoped to attract economic development to the area, but Laura points out having a new Chick-fil-A in town checks both boxes.
Nelson Snow, an ISU sophomore who works part time in the engineering office and joined Laura on her early lunch run, grew fond of Chick-fil-A in Boise.
“The secret is the sauce. The sauce is really good,” Snow said.
Chartwells, which is the exclusive caterer at ISU, holds the license for the restaurant and employs the staff. The new Chick-fil-A will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The soft opening was originally scheduled for Sept. 15 but was delayed until November due to challenges in hiring labor.
“We were just a few full-timers short of being able to open when we were originally planning,” said Todd Tumberg, retail dining director at Chartwells. “We should be good to go from here.”
Tumberg explained the restaurant will delay having an official grand opening celebration until after winter break. In conjunction with the grand opening, he said Chick-fil-A will host a scavenger hunt to find cows that hold a gift certificate good for Chick-fil-A for a year.
The new location should draw from a large geographic area. The nearest Chick-fil-A locations are in Idaho Falls and Twin Falls.
Hunt is optimistic that having the popular eatery inside of the student union building will also raise awareness about the Bengal Theater, the bowling alley and other amenities there.
“I think it will introduce a lot of people in the community who maybe don’t know all of the fun things we do in the student union,” Hunt said.
Nationally, some people have boycotted the chain, based on the perception that its management has historically supported philanthropic causes with anti-LGBTQ agendas.
Hunt can’t speak for the chain, but in his experience staff at the locations he’s visited have treated customers with kindness and respect.