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Local spreads cheer during pandemic

BY KAITLIN HOLLEY

With coronavirus shutting down most restaurants and making things drive thru only it hasn’t stopped Chick-Fil-A in Nashville, Tenn., from serving with a smile.

Straughn High School alumnus Conner Livings is making his mark by being a great leader.

He currently is living in Nashville and is enrolled in the Leadership Development Program for Chick-Fil-A. 

“On Oct. 1, 2019, I moved to Nashville,” Livings said. “It was always a dream of mine to own my own Chick-Fil-A. I was on a different path but decided ultimately to pursue my dream. Even though I had a good job and liked the path I was on, I decided after prayer that I wanted to take a leap of faith. I love business so combining that with the aspect of putting smiles on peoples faces has been awesome.”  

Before moving to Nashville, Livings had moved back from Auburn and was working at the Court House in Andalusia under District Attorney Walt Merrell and planning on going to law school next. 

“One day I went to Walt Merrell and told him I had something stirring inside of me and he had great wisdom and support for my dream,” Livings said. “Then I told him I was going to move to Nashville in October. He has been a great mentor to me.”

The massive life change was not an easy one for Livings, as he said it was like jumping off of a cliff.

“Packing up my life and moving away from my family felt like I jumped off a cliff and was waiting for my parachute to open,” Livings said. “My family is in Andalusia and I am a huge family guy. I always saw myself living in Andy all my life and practicing law. Even though at the time I saw myself raising a family in Andalusia and making it my permanent home, something just told me I had to follow my dream and take a chance. It took six months to pull the trigger on it. At first it was like I am leaving everyone I know at home but really and truthfully they have been there with a lot of support. My owner is an awesome person and I have made new friends.”

With the leadership program, he will be receiving his master’s degree in 18 months and is learning how to lead diverse individuals, groups, and organizations amidst ongoing growth and change. 

“Chick-Fil-A- founder Samuel Truett Cathy’s passion to form young people is inspiring and has built such opportunities for young business men and women,” Livings said. “It is up to individual owners to determine when you are ready to manage your own Chick-Fil-A. The goal is 24 months of time frame in the leadership program. You come in from scratch. I had no experience of learning from the ground up and started from the hands on approach and when you get to 24 months the goal is that you have enough resources, tools and experience and then you can own your own Chick-Fil-A. You apply through corporate next with the network around you of leaders from Chick-Fil-A. It all started in October moving here specifically for the program.

One of the many challenges that Livings has had to face while in Nashville is the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last Monday we received word from the corporate office that in order to keep our guests and team members we needed to close our dinning room and implement cleaning,” Livings said. “The biggest thing was to close the dining room to stop the spread of germs. Last Tuesday we closed the dining room officially. We are drive-thru only for now and we can do it mobile or curbside. We are actually diverting some of the staff to our drive thru and it is allowing us to get through cars faster. 

Our team is overwhelmed with the amazing amount of support from our community, people have been thankful for us serving. We have had lots of rain and our team members have been out there with umbrellas. We make it mandatory that everyone is washing their hands every thirty minutes. Thankfully we have Purell wipes that we had even before the coronavirus. The goal is to keep everyone safe. We sanitize about every thirty minutes and we just keep our areas and hands clean.”

During his time at Chcik-Fil-A, Livings and his team made a connection with one customer, Ms. Judy, who would dine with the team.

“I made multiple trips here before I started working and on one of my trips it was an all team meeting,” Livings said. “I drove up and wanted to get a feel for the company in the meeting. My owner, Bo, mentioned a lady named Ms. Judy, she will tell you she loves the people and spending time with them. It was probably a couple weeks in when I was on my break and I noticed there were several of our team members in the dining room eating with her. I met her and she immediately said she didn’t know me but wanted to know me. She said we are her babies and she comes in every morning and sits in the same booth and everyone wants to go on break to sit with her. She is honestly like everyone’s grandmother. I am very close to my grandmother back home so she is very special to me because I miss my grandma.”

After the new policy changes, even Ms. Judy had to be turned away, but that didn’t stop Livings and his team from making her feel special during this time of crisis.

“She asked about the coronavirus and how it would affect the dining room,” Livings said. “She had never been through the drive thru so we didn’t even think anything of it until I looked out the window and it was Ms. Judy and it was weird because I looked at my other team members and looked and said what if we use this little table outside. She said it would be a great idea and Ms. Judy came through and I said good morning this is so odd seeing you in the drive thru and I asked her if she would like to join us on the curb. We got the little folding table and some folding chairs set up. It started off with two people then more team members joined us it was without a doubt one of the best breakfasts that I ever had. It was not planned. I knew we had done the right thing and she said, ‘Well I wasn’t going to stop going to Chick-Fil-A and I was going to sit in my car and eat it and let someone visit me in my car if they go on break,’ She is a special soul and she is so sweet.”

Livings said the entire moment couldn’t have been planned at all, but Chick-Fil-A has a mission.

“Sitting there in the spur of the moment on the curb was something that no one could plan,” Livings said. “Chick-Fil-A has a mission and is truthfully in it for people. A lot of places go the first mile and serve their guests well but Chick-Fil-A mission is to go that second mile. You can never plan that it would be to set up a folding table to serve a guest. We encourage our team members that when the moment rises how can we serve that guest in the best way.”