The chicken has officially crossed the road.
A new Chick-fil-A restaurant opened at 12000 Roosevelt Blvd. in Somerton near Woodhaven Road on May 26, immediately serving excited and hungry customers. The Somerton branch was opened for business by Robert Fanelli and his wife Michelle, giving the happy couple a Chick-fil-A restaurant on both sides of the Boulevard, as they also own and operate the highly successful establishment in Whitman Square near Grant Avenue, 2 miles down the road.
Chick-fil-A Somerton joins a quickly growing area that sits at the former Nabisco factory site. It is now anchored by the newly opened Topgolf and has several other businesses filing their paperwork to join the new hot hub in the near future.
“This is a great location with Topgolf being the anchor and a lot of key stores in the area coming in,” Robert Fanelli said. “It was a great opportunity for us to partner with the Northeast community and create more excitement for the city.”
Fanelli, who grew up near Grant Avenue, began working at a Chick-fil-A at the Neshaminy Mall as a teenager after following up on a friend’s recommendation to try its signature waffle fries. Thirty-two years later, he is still a Chick-fil-A employee, opening up his second store in Northeast Philadelphia.
“I started at the Neshaminy Mall, just fileting chicken, squeezing lemons and washing dishes,” Fanelli said with a smile. “And I just stayed with them.”
A few years later, as an 18-year-old, he became the general manager at the Neshaminy branch.
“I just fell in love with the branch,” Fanelli said. “I fell in love with Chick-fil-A. I was going to college for other things but ended up graduating from Chick-fil-A University.”
Fanelli opened his first store in the Gallery at Market East in Center City from 2004 until 2013, shortly before taking over the branch at Whitman Square. He also fell in love with his wife around the same time. Michelle had taken a similar path, working for the restaurant where she grew up in Reading. Twenty years ago, on Memorial Day weekend, their paths crossed during a training session in Reading.
“That’s how we met,” Michelle said. “He came to help with some training for the new free-standing restaurant that was opening (in Reading) and started doing training with the new team members.”
According to Fanelli, that was the first free-standing Chick-fil-A in Pennsylvania and the company has come a long way since. Now you’ll find more than 80 free-standing establishments in the wider Philadelphia market welcoming busy, but quickly-moving drive-thru lines, serving varieties of delicious chicken meals. Chick-fil-A prides itself on customer service and says it commits to hiring, developing and retaining top talent and providing a positive work environment for people of all ages and backgrounds.
The Somerton location is still accepting applications, as it will employ roughly 120 full- and part-time members at its new store.
“It’s not easy times for the workforce right now,” Fanelli said. “We’re still looking to hire another 20-30 workers going into the summer. We’re staffed OK but we could definitely use more team members. Our Director of Operations Bill Fritz put in a lot of effort in getting this new location all set up. All our different teams really poured their hearts out to make this happen.”
Additional workers would certainly help the current staff with spreading the goodwill that the Whitman location established throughout the years. Traditionally, Chick-fil-A Whitman has fed local heroes including firefighters from two nearby stations as a thank you for their service. Chick-fil-A Somerton will begin recognizing 100 local heroes making an impact in the Philadelphia area by providing them with free Chick-fil-A meals for a year. Fanelli’s restaurant will also be participating in the Chick-fil-A Shared Table Program, an initiative that redirects surplus food from the restaurant to local soup kitchens, shelters, food banks and nonprofits in need. It’s also something he’s done at Whitman Square.
“It’s huge,” he said. “There’s a lot of need in the city. We’ve seen it at Whitman Square. We’ve been involved with the Harvest Program so any leftover food that is still good, we donate and it ends up in the hands of people who really need it.”
In honor of the opening, Chick-fil-A Inc. will also donate $25,000 to Feeding America on behalf of the new restaurant. These funds will be distributed to partners in the greater Philadelphia area to aid in the fight against hunger. It’s just a small sample of why the Fanelli family wanted to extend its reach into the local community.
“To be built less than 2 miles from our other location, we have a big goal of extending our influence in the community in Northeast Philadelphia,” Fanelli said. “Our mission is to be Philly’s most caring. If this opened up and it wasn’t ours, it would be a little tough to handle so we wanted to make sure it was our location and we could expand even further in the Northeast, in the community I grew up in. We love the city.” ••