The first Chick-fil-A restaurant is serving its last day at the Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta

Nostalgic fans and neighborhood residents past and present flocked to the food court Saturday when the mall opened at 11 a.m. They posed for pictures, greeted longtime friends and ordered chicken sandwiches, with a side of gravy and sentimentality. A brisk lunch business continued throughout the first two hours.

Word of the site’s closure began to spread a few days ago when visitors noticed the signs posted in the food court. It hit many hard.

“I was here the first weekend and I̵[ads1]7;m here the last day,” said Demetra Rowan, 65, of Decatur. “I try not to tear up because it’s like a part of your story that goes away.”

She remembered one day having breakfast at the Woolworth’s in-store cafe in the middle of the mall. After doing some shopping, they noticed a commotion around a new eatery. It had little parfait chairs, and Rowan said her mom fussed because there were only a few tables.

They ordered sandwiches and kept coming back.

Pioneering restaurateur Truett Cathy started in Hapeville with his Dwarf Grill, now Dwarf House, in 1946. In 1964, he created the recipe for the original chicken sandwich.

Greenbriar Mall was one of the first indoor malls in the region, and when Chick-fil-A opened, it staked out a space that wasn’t even 400 square feet.

Putting a restaurant inside a shopping center was “a big bet” at the time, the company notes on its website. But Chick-fil-A successfully continued the strategy by shining new malls that became hubs of suburban America.

The first Greenbriar menu, before the restaurant moved to a larger location inside the mall, was bare bones. A chicken sandwich cost 59 cents. Diners on Saturday paid $5.09 for a chicken sandwich.

The mall, like others across the country, has lost well-known retailers like Macy’s, but continues to hold an important place in southwest Atlanta.

In a statement, Greenbriar Mall said it “will be eternally grateful for the partnership fostered and the legacy built with Chick-fil-A and the Cathy family.”

Chick-fil-A has not commented on the closing.

Claudia Eisenburg was a 16-year-old gift wrapper at Muse’s menswear store when Chick-fil-A opened. She said she stopped for a bite to eat before her shift on the historic first day.

“It was delicious. I’ve been eating it ever since,” said Eisenburg, 71, who came from Peachtree City to place his usual order, a sandwich and sweet tea.

Chick-fil-A was part of Vickie Henderson’s routine for a long time. She would go to work out around the mall in the morning, eat breakfast at Chick-fil-A and stock up on lemonade before heading out.

“This is heartbreaking,” Henderson, 65, said.

Marquise Drayton, 26, drove Saturday morning from Clemson, South Carolina, accompanied by a small, stuffed and spotted Chick-fil-A cow.

He is a “foodie historian” who depicts famous fast food dishes on his TikTok account. He has gone to the first Raising Cane’s restaurant in Louisiana and the first Cook Out in North Carolina. He had to witness the history of chicken sandwiches in Atlanta.

“When I found out they were closing, I said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to get into this,'” he said. “Food brings people together, and Chick-fil-A is so known for their service.”

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