Consuela Jacobs was managing a team of buyers as a VP of Stage Stores, a retail company with north of 720 locations. In May 2020, COVID-19 sent the group into bankruptcy and Jacobs lost her job. It was a setback in an ascending career, one with stacks of awards, world travels atop a $300 million business at JC Penny, and a role she could have only dreamed up as a kid—buying clothes for a living with somebody else’s money, Jacobs jokes.

The “huge blow to my ego,” she says, left her probing the future. Retail was struggling. Many brick-and-mortars hadn’t reopened and malls sat vacant and scrambling. But years prior, in college at Texas A&M, Jacobs fell for Chick-fil-A as a consumer. She’d drive 25 minutes each way to get her fix after graduation. Jacobs often told friends, family, and anybody else who’d listen, they should own one.

It was time to listen to her own advice.

Jacobs submitted an expression of interest. To put into perspective the odds, Chick-fil-A selected 94 local owner/operators in 2023 (as of November). That represented less than one half of 1 percent of the applicant pool. Jacobs says she heard getting a Chick-fil-A “was more difficult than getting into Harvard.” In truth, it’s not even close. Harvard’s acceptance rate is 4 percent, per the U.S. Department of Education.

READ MORE: Chick-fil-A Has the Busiest Drive-Thrus in America

Jacobs didn’t wait for news, however. As the process stirred, she applied to some local Houston-area Chick-fil-As. One operator told her he had a marketing director role on the books. Jacobs turned it down. “I want to come in as a team member,” she says. “I want to learn from the ground up and just see how the operations go.” She worked 40–50-hour weeks full-time, running every post in the unit.

“I’d come home as some of the operators say, smelling like chicken and it was a great day,” Jacobs says.

Fast forward to November 9. Jacobs not only beat the lottery, but became the owner/operator to run Chick-fil-A’s 3,000th restaurant. She initially had no clue that was the case. On opening day, Jacobs was accompanied by CEO Andrew Cathy and other executives to cut the ribbon on a Thursday morning in the RedBird neighborhood of Dallas.

Jacobs’ location incorporates some specific features, like a red bench near the front door with a plaque honoring the 3,000-store journey. An interior wall also displays a framed design that pays homage to the mosaic tile artwork on the facade of the main building in The Shops at RedBird, where the store is located. The restaurant brings Chick-fil-A’s Texas footprint to 471, 129 of which have opened in the past five years.

In a turn of synergy, RedBird is a mixed-used development of the formerly known Southwest Center Mall. Beyond Jacobs working adjacent to the retail world yet again, she often shopped with her college roommate, who grew up in Oak Cliff, at the spot. Jacobs also worked at Foley’s, a regional chain that would later by owned by May Department Stores, which boasted a location there, too. “So I remember that mall back in the 90s in its heyday when it was great and successful and the place to be,” she says. “I’m excited to be a part of it now in 2023, and it’s going to be great and successful again.”

Jacobs’ connection to the market is an example of why Chick-fil-A takes this deliberate, store-by-store approach with owner-operator selection, a company spokesperson says. Having somebody who understands the ticks, challenges, and characteristics of a community is different than dropping in a leader from a corporate hub.

Jacobs’ RedBird store will be embedded in the community from the outset.

Giving back locally started on day one for Jacobs.

Chick-fil-A RedBird joined the company’s Table program, which is an initiative that redirects surplus food from the restaurant to local soup kitchens, shelters, food banks, and. To date, food from Chick-fil-A Shared Table donations has helped create more than 23 million meals, with nearly 2,000 Chick-fil-A restaurants spanning 47 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada participating.

Chick-fil-A RedBird also recognized 100 local heroes making an impact in the Dallas area by providing them with free Chick-fil-A entrées for a year. 

More broadly, alongside the 3,000th opening, Chick-fil-A corporate agreed to donate a collective $300,000 to help fight food insecurity and support education in local communities. Feeding America and Junior Achievement will each receive a $150,000 donation.

Jacobs adds the store will link with Boys & Girls Clubs and Harmony CDC Food Pantry for surprise $25,000 outreaches. The store will pack some 3,000 bookbags with food and education suppliers—2,500 with pantry food and 500 with suppliers for educators.

“I grew up in a community that is very similar to RedBird even though it’s in Houston,” Jacobs adds. “I know what the community needs because I’ve been there. I’ve been in similar community. I’m excited. I’m a first-generation college graduate. I’m ready to be a part of this community and be here, boots on the ground, every day, working with my team and working in the community. working for the community.”

As far as running the store itself, during exploration, Jacobs had a chance to meet support center employees and operators. They asked if she had worked in fast food. She did, at 15, for Hart’s Fried Chicken. “They were like, ‘yeah, it’s not the same,’” Jacobs laughs.

She’d find that out firsthand during the year she clocked time as a full-timer in Houston. Chick-fil-A, she says, lives up to the assumption of being a “well-oiled machine.”

“There’s a process, and thought process, behind all of the things that go into serving our guests,” she says. “It’s all well thought out and thought out with care.”

Jacobs’ preferred role was “expeditor,” where she’d pass orders out to guests (this was in 2021, during COVID era days). Often it would come at the window or through the hospitality doors the company builds in drive-thrus so employees can walk food to customers.

Jacobs says the process of being selected as an owner/operator was nerve wracking throughout. Chick-fil-A famously, relentlessly vets leaders. There’s even an element of trying to convince somebody they shouldn’t sign on to see who’s bullish enough to ignore the warnings.

The RedBird location pays homage to Chick-fil-A’s milestone No. 3,000.

There was never a point, Jacobs adds, where she thought she was a front-runner. She kept fielding questions and progressed to a call where she decided Chick-fil-A must have gone a different route. Then came the reveal. Jacobs was at the spa on a girls trip. “It was supposed to be quiet and I screamed,” she says.

When Chick-fil-A makes its decisions, operators ring a bell at the support center and sign their name on a board where that year’s picks are listed. “Every time a bell rings, an operator might get some keys,” Jacobs says.

“They want to make sure that you know that this is going to be hard work,” she adds. “That this is not a franchise opportunity where you’re hands off. You have to be involved. They want partners that are going to be involved in the community and involved in the restaurant, and are going to show up and show up for their team and their guests.”

The RedBird store brought 110 full- and part-time jobs to a community amid revitalization. Jacobs says she feels the weight of being a Black female business owner in a trade area that’s not only going to provide work to residents, but also establish a pillar who people can look up to. “They’ll know that it doesn’t atter where you start, you can achieve your goals,” she says. “And if you believe in yourself and work hard, those things are possible.”

Fast Food, Franchising, Story, Chick-fil-A