Hungry with anticipation, students have eagerly waited for the opening of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers for months.
On June 6, the University Avenue location expected an audience of about 1,700 customers for its grand opening.
Brent Bellflower, the 34-year-old general manager of Raising Cane's, knew the event would be huge. He advised his team to prepare for thousands of orders and a rowdy crowd.
"It's not about speed, it's about repetition," Bellflower said. "Just take one customer at a time."
The particularly long lines can be attributed to a special the restaurant announced earlier that week, where the first 20 customers would be entered to win free Raising Cane's for a year. Moreover, the first 100 customers who purchased a combo meal were given free T-shirts.
Stephanie Wielinski, the 35-year-old area leader of marketing, was responsible for Raising Cane's promotional coverage in Gainesville, Tallahassee, Clearwater and incoming Orlando locations.
Raising Cane's Gainesville location has more school spirit than any other location by a university's campus.
"If you were to walk into the Tallahassee location, you would see a lot of FSU memorabilia, but not to this extent," Wielinski said, pointing at the UF-themed signs on the walls.
The location's aesthetic encapsulates UF's lively campus, with dozens of orange and blue signs and banners throughout the restaurant. Decor ranges from posters honoring the late Gainesville-native singer Tom Petty to a wall that mimics Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The booths are painted orange and blue.
Halle Kurit, a 20-year-old UF biology senior, said she visited another Raising Cane's location before but felt a personal connection to the University Avenue location.
Kurit, who is a soccer fan, enjoyed women’s national soccer player and UF alum Abby Wambach's picture displayed on a wall inside the restaurant.
“I think it really makes it have a Gainesville feel," Kurit said.
Having been a part of many openings, Wielinski advised the team to have fun above everything else.
"We're not saving the world," Wielinski said. "We're just cooking chicken."
The staff is even encouraged to sing and dance while frying, she said.
Wielinski predicted about 100 customers to wait outside when they began to call "their lucky 20."
The staff stopped accepting entries at 9 a.m., and the official winners were announced by 9:30 a.m.
"It's probably better that our opening is in the Summer," Wielinski said. "By the time Fall rolls around, the team should feel comfortable with large crowds."
The seasoned crew was prepared to step in and fire up the chicken if lines got too long during the opening.
"It was so full,” Gaby Leon, a 20-year-old UF student, said. “People were camping outside, and they brought chairs and blankets."
Leon said she devoured the "crispiest tenders" she had ever had.
A live DJ played at the opening and, just as predicted, over 100 people lined up outside, desperate for a long-awaited bite.
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