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The Flatbush Chick-fil-A Crunch

Photo: Alex Kent

The only Chick-fil-A in Brooklyn is almost always packed. Not with customers, but with delivery drivers picking up orders. It is, in fact, one of the chain’s highest grossing locations in the country, even though it’s a relative latecomer to the city’s fast-food landscape (its first standalone franchise opened in 2015). With 70 percent of sales coming in through mobile orders, Fast Company described the scene last fall as “Mad Max, but with waffle fries.” When I arrive at noon on Friday, I’m told by a Chick-fil-A employee that it’s about as calm as it gets — which still means around two dozen bikes and a throng of deliveristas waiting at the restaurant’s side entrance with their phones out. I watch as mopeds ride in and out on the sidewalk, weave around pedestrians, and, at times, zip down the wrong way on Flatbush for a block. Is it always like this? “From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” one DoorDash worker says.

This particular Chick-fil-A is located on Flatbush Avenue, across from the Barclays Center and right next to a Shake Shack, which also contributes to the delivery backup. “It’s always crazy because it’s the only Chick-fil-A,” the DoorDash worker tells me as he waits to pick up his order (Manhattan, in comparison, has 14 locations). He says he usually avoids picking up from here because the crowds often mean long wait times and orders canceled by the app. On a bad day, the congestion is enough to spark a viral TikTok: “Once I got here and noticed the amount of people that were there, I canceled the order immediately,” one DoorDash worker says in a video, as he pans across a throng of delivery drivers trying to pick up their orders. Bikes are stacked in the street and on the sidewalk.

Residents have been raising the issue of the street-level chaos since the store opened in 2019. According to the local blog Atlantic Yards Report, the transportation committee of Brooklyn Community Board 6 sent a letter to local officials in 2021, outlining concerns with “using Flatbush Avenue as a de facto restaurant drive-thru.” Police tried to set up an ad-hoc bike corral in the parking lane with metal barriers but took them down a few months later because the barriers were needed for parades. (“I gave it the college try,” the precinct commander said.) The store’s owner told Fast Company that he’s lobbied for a bike lane on the street to try to reduce congestion.

There have been some efforts to fix the situation by DOT — currently plastic bollards cordon off a section of the No Standing zone on Flatbush so there’s a space off the sidewalk for the mopeds and e-bikes to park. One delivery worker says the corral has made it feel safer because it keeps cars out, many of which were double-parking to also pick up orders. (Despite the outcry against mopeds and e-bikes, they are only responsible for a minute fraction of crashes compared to cars, and the job is mostly dangerous for delivery workers.) While acknowledging that the layover space eases some of the sidewalk congestion, DOT spokesperson Vin Barone said, “Demand at this location is high, so we continue to work with local stakeholders to explore additional options.”

After all, there’s only so much a few pieces of plastic can do. Delivery workers are pressured by apps to get their orders out as fast as possible (the DoorDasher said he was making $6 on his Chick-fil-A delivery). They are even being targeted at this location by the citywide police crackdown on illegal mopeds while waiting for orders. It’s clear that our city’s streets are not built for loading and delivery — and certainly not for its fried-chicken-sandwich demand — at the scale that it needs. And this is only the calm before the storm. As a Chick-fil-A employee told me: “It’s craziest around 6 p.m.”

The Flatbush Chick-fil-A Crunch