Chick-fil-A restaurant founder S. Truett Cathy has died at age 93

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Chick-fil-A restaurant founder S. Truett Cathy has died at age 93
S. Truett Cathy the founder of Chick-fil-A watches teams warming up before the first half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl NCAA college football game between Clemson and LSU, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
President Bush presents the Lifetime President's Volunteer Service Award to Chick fil-A Inc. founder Truett Cathy, Tuesday, April 15, 2008, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
in this photo released by Chick-fil-A shows Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, center, receiving the last Ford Taurus as Ford employees Dale Wishnousky, left, and Al Kent look on Friday, Oct.27, 2006 at the Ford Assembly Plant Hapeville, Ga. The 85-year-old Cathy has had a longtime relationship with the plant, crediting the success of his first restaurant, The Dwarf Grill (now called the Dwarf House), to the Ford plant's workers. The restaurant is located across the street from the plant. (AP Photo/Chick-fil-a, Joe Sebo)
Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy listens during an interview at his corporate headquarters office in Hapeville, Ga., Wednesday, July 26, 2006. The fast-food chain's restaurants close on Sundays to give employees a day of rest, a business decision 85-year-old Cathy said has been a big factor in the company's success, by sticking to his doctrine of considering people before profits. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)
**HFR CHICK-FIL-A TRUETT CATHY**Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy reacts during an interview at his corporate headquarters office in Hapeville, Ga., Wednesday, July 26, 2006. The fast-food chain's restaurants close on Sundays to give employees a day of rest, a business decision 85-year-old Cathy said has been a big factor in the company's success, by sticking to his doctrine of considering people before profits. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)
Harry Moss of East Point, Ga. has lunch and reads the newspaperat his neighborhood Chick-fil-A resturant Thursday, Aug. 3, 2006. Every week Moss finds a cozy table at the resturant to read the entire newspaper and enjoy a salad garnished with the fast-food chain's staple - chicken. However, he doesn't get to pore through the Sunday paper there. That day is when the fast-food chain's resturants close to give employees a day of rest, a business decision 85-year-old founder Truett Cathy said has been a big factor in the company's success, by sticking to his docttine of considering people before profits. (AP Photo/Gene Blythe)
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guiterrez, right, leaves with a lunch bag as Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, left, walks him out after a meeting with Georgia business leaders to discuss immigration reform, Tuesday, July 25, 2006, at Chick-fil-A in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guiterrez, center, and Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, left, laugh as Cathy stops Guiterrez from paying for his drink as Elizabeth Fritz, right, operates the register, before the start of a meeting with Georgia business leaders to discuss immigration reform, held at a Chick-fil-A, Tuesday, July 25, 2006, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guiterrez, left, speaks as Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy listens during a meeting with Georgia business leaders to discuss immigration reform, Tuesday, July 25, 2006, in Atlanta. Over the last few weeks, Gutierrez has criticized the enforcement-only approach favored by the House and pushed instead for a temporary worker program and a path to legalization for the millions of illegal immigrants who live in the U.S. (AP Photo/John Amis)
S. Truett Cathy, founder and chairman of Chick-Fil-A, Inc., appears before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on Capitol Hill Friday, July 26, 2002. The panel is studying business ethics. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
S. Truett Cathy, founder and chairman of Chick-Fil-A, Inc., appears before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on Capitol Hill Friday, July 26, 2002. The panel is studying business ethics. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Truett S. Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, poses Thursday, Nov. 8, 2001, in a replica of "The Dwarf Grill," the original restaurant he started in Atlanta in 1946. The mannequin represents Cathy at the grill, which is in the Chick-fil-A museum at the company's headquarters in south Atlanta. Chick-fil-A is now the second-largest fast-food chicken restaurant in the U.S., after Kentucky Fried Chicken, with restaurants in 34 states and Washington D.C. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)
S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, second right, poses Thursday, Nov. 8, 2001, on his son, Dan T. Cathy's, Harley Davidson motorcycle painted to look like a cow, at the company's headquarters in south Atlanta. Joining Cathy are, from left, son Dan T. Cathy, daughter Trudy White, and son Donald "Bubba" Cathy. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)
S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, poses Thursday, Nov. 8, 2001, on his son, Dan T. Cathy's, Harley Davidson motorcycle which is painted to look like a cow, in front of the company's headquarters in south Atlanta. The seasoned, breaded chicken breast sandwich Cathy toyed with 55 years ago as a kitchen experiment has helped Chick-fil-A become the second-largest fast-food chicken restaurant in the U.S., with restaurants in 34 states and Washington D.C. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)
Chick-fil-A founder and Chairman S.Truett Cathy listens during the keynote address delivered by US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney at Liberty University's 39th Annual Commencement in Lynchburg, Virginia, May 12, 2012. AFP PHOTO/Jim Watson (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/GettyImages)
December 6, 2006, San Marcos, CA, USA_Chick-Fil-A founder S. TRUETT CATHY, 85, at left, meets with his grandson MARK CATHY, at right, at the restaurant chain's new San Marcos location that Mark will operate_photo by Charlie Neuman/San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Press. copyright 2006 San Diego Union-Tr
August 1, 2012 patron appreciation day at Chick-fil-A Restaurant - 'The Original Chicken Sandwich'.
Jan. 24, 2008 - Augusta, Georgia, U.S. - S. Truett Cathy, founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A, poses for pictures with students at Westminster School in Augusta, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008. (Credit Image: © Augusta Chronicle/ZUMAPRESS.com)
December 6, 2006, San Marcos, CA, USA_Chick-Fil-A founder S. TRUETT CATHY, 85, at right, meets with his grandson MARK CATHY, at left, behind the counter at the restaurant chain's new San Marcos location that Mark will operate_photo by Charlie Neuman/San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Press. copyright 2006
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ATLANTA (AP) - S. Truett Cathy, the billionaire founder of the privately held Chick-fil-A restaurant chain that famously closes on Sundays but also drew unwanted attention on gay marriage in recent years because of his family's conservative views, died early Monday, a company spokesman said. He was 93.

Chick-fil-A spokesman Mark Baldwin told The Associated Press that Cathy died at home surrounded by members of his family. Funeral plans had not yet been finalized, he said.

Cathy opened his first postwar diner in an Atlanta suburb in 1946 and by 1967 he had founded and opened his first Chick-fil-A Inc. restaurant in Atlanta. Over ensuing decades, the chain's boneless chicken sandwich he is credited with inventing would propel Chick-fil-A expansion to more than 1,800 outlets in 39 states and the nation's capital. By early 2013, the company says on its website, annual sales topped $5 billion as the chain offered up a taste of the South that went beyond chicken to such offerings as sweet tea, biscuits and gravy.

Founder Of Chick-Fil-A Restaurant Chain Dies At 93

Under the religiously conservative founder, the chain gained prominence for its Bible Belt observance of Sunday - none of its hundreds of restaurants are open on that day, to allow employees a day of rest. Its executives often said the chain made as much money in six days as its competitors do in seven.

Those religious views helped win Cathy and his family loyal following from conservative customers, but also invited protests when Cathy's son denounced gay marriage.

Cathy's son, Dan, who is currently chairman and president of the chain, had told the Baptist Press in 2012 that the company was "guilty as charged" for backing "the biblical definition of a family." Gay rights groups and others called for boycotts and kiss-ins at Cathy's restaurants. The Jim Henson Co. pulled its Muppet toys from kids' meals, while politicians in Boston and Chicago told the chain it is not welcome there.

The controversy later subsided.

The family-owned company has said it has had 46 consecutive years of positive sales growth. Cathy's $6 billion fortune as the founder of Chick-fil-A puts him on the yearly Forbes magazine list of the wealthiest Americans in the country. The company has listed him on its website as its chairman emeritus after he left day-to-day operations to younger generations.

Truett Cathy began his career in the restaurant business by opening with his brother in 1946 an Atlanta diner called The Dwarf Grill, which was named for the short and stout shape of the restaurant.

He has attributed his hardworking nature - even as a little boy he made money by selling six bottles of Coca-Cola for a quarter - to growing up poor.

"I've experienced poverty and plenty and there's a lesson to be learned when you're brought up in poverty," he said in 2007. "I had to create some good work habits and attitude."

Even well into his 80s, Cathy was actively involved in the chain's operations, including setting up a contract with his children that said they may sell the privately-owned chain in the future but the company must never go public.

"Why would I retire from something I enjoy doing?" Cathy said in a 2007 interview. "I can hardly wait to get here."

An opportunity in 1961 led to the development of the restaurant chain's trademark chicken sandwich when a company that cooked boneless, skinless chicken for airline meals wanted to sell him pieces that were too big for the airline customer's needs. Cathy took those pieces and cooked them in a pressure cooker and served them in buttered buns.

The sandwich was sold at independent restaurants for a few years before he opened his first Chick-fil-A restaurant at an Atlanta shopping mall in 1967.

Cathy also was known for his efforts to help youth. In 1984 he created the WinShape Foundation to help "shape winners" through youth support programs and scholarships. He also created a long-term program for foster children that has foster care homes in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Brazil.

His sympathy for children was demonstrated in August 2008 when he worked out a deal with the parents of two girls who were accused of causing $30,000 in damage to a home he owned in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. The girls were banned from watching TV and playing video games. They also had to write "I will not vandalize other people's property" 1,000 times.

He told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that he didn't want to have them prosecuted and left with a criminal record.

As the author of several books, his 2007 book "How Did You Do It, Truett?" outlined his strategy for success that included setting priorities, being courteous, cautiously expanding a business and not being burdened with debt.

"There's really no secret for success," he said then. "I hope it will open eyes for people. They don't have to follow my recipe but this is what works for me."

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