A Chick-fil-A in Avon, Indiana, is honoring its favorite customer – a World War II veteran – with free food for life as a token of appreciation for his service to the country and for his special friendship with employees.
Making his first visit to his local Chick-fil-A in the Hoosier State about a year ago, Ernie has made a habit of frequenting the Christian fast food restaurant just about every day of the week.
“Now, he comes back for a lunch of chicken nuggets and root beer nearly every day,” CBN News reported.
Chick-fil-A franchise owner Chris Tincher and his crew are more than happy to put all hands on deck to serve the chipper 92-year-old veteran, who never fails to boost company morale with his upbeat demeanor and friendly conversations.
"If we can get to Ernie, it’s been a good day,” Tincher chuckled while speaking with the local Fox 59 television station.
Even though the entire menu is open to Ernie, he sticks to his favorite Chick-fil-A treat, which he says his local restaurant has mastered.
“I like nuggets," Ernie told Fox 59 through a big smile. "And if you want a good one, this is the place to come.”
His smile is contagious throughout the restaurant on a daily basis, as Ernie’s radiant countenance and warm personality spreads from behind the counter to the eating area.
"He's just like the all-American grandpa," Tincher shared. "He just makes you feel good.”
Chick-fil-A Executive Director Melissa Luebbert is amazed at how active and lively Ernie is at his age.
"We were just fascinated because he’s always like, ‘Oh, I just mowed my lawn,’” Luebbert recounted to Fox 59. "And he push-mows!”
Having the spirit of a kid, Ernie looks forward to ordering his chicken nugget kid’s meal with his favorite cup of root beer in Avon.
"It's the best root beer in town," Ernie insisted.
Every day, he enjoys his delectables while Chick-fil-A employees – including team leader Amy Chambliss – visit him at his table and engage in friendly conversation.
"All of us take turns sitting with him and eating with him," Chambliss noted, according to Fox 59. "We just enjoy his company.”
A few small nuggets and cup of root beer are a small price to pay for Ernie’s daily encouragement, says Luebbert.
“He's just so warm," Luebbert impressed. "Anytime you take his food to him, he’d ask how we were doing, and then it got to where we just formed a friendship.”
A Veterans Day blessing extended
On Veterans Day earlier this month, Luebbert, Tincher and Chick-fil-A employee James Cook discussed how much they and others at the restaurant enjoyed Ernie’s daily blessings, and they came up with an idea to return the blessing.
“James came up with a really good idea as we were thinking of how to honor you," Tincher shared in a video that was posted on Facebook, according to Fox 59.
Cook – who serves as a spokesman for the America’s favorite fast food chain – was eager to show Ernie just how much Chick-fil-A appreciates its favorite customer.
“What if when Ernie came in, he never had to pay for Chick-fil-A again when he came to our restaurant?” the spokesman posed, according to ABC 13.
Tincher said that after this suggestion, the rest was history.
“So that was James' idea – he wanted to honor you,” Tincher continued in the video. “So, we wanted to say, ‘Every time you come into this restaurant, you’re family now – so you no longer have to pay for any of your meals.’”
Coming from a generation that lived at a time in American when people were not too fond of the idea of receiving a free meal, Ernie can be seen in the video initially refusing to accept the generous offer from Chick-fil-A.
“It was kinda of a shock to me," an overwhelmed Ernie expressed after the restaurant made the kind gesture. "I didn't think I really deserved a free meal.”
As a United States military veteran himself, Tincher believes Ernie is more than deserving of such a blessing and insisted that his team members having the opportunity to fellowship with their favorite senior citizen on a daily was far more valuable than the cost of Ernie’s meal.
"He really does make people feel special," Tincher noted, explaining why he did not want to take Ernie’s money. "He's almost more important to our staff than we are to him.”
Mutual respect and appreciation for Ernie can be seen by everyone the minute he walks through the door.
"I wouldn't know what to do without him," Luebbert expressed. "He is definitely a bright spot in our day.”
With the whole menu for to choose from, Ernie still faithfully orders his kid’s meal each and every day, but much more than his appreciation for the free food, the friendly veteran has even more gratitude for the friendships he has made at his local Chick-fil-A.
He emphasized that the free food is not the motivation he has for his continued daily visits to his local Chick-fil-A.
“Ernie says he enjoys everyone's company, and that he didn't even need the free meals,” ABC 13 reported.
The blessed 92-year-old is just happy to have a place where he can faithfully visit his friends.
"It just makes me feel good," Ernie impressed, according to Fox 59. "It makes me feel good because people treat me nice."