The Tragedy The Chick-Fil-A Founder's First Restaurant Suffered

The Cathy family, owners of the wildly popular and fast-expanding fried chicken empire Chick-fil-A, is one of the wealthiest families in America, according to Forbes. Franchises of their chicken chain seem to be popping up everywhere, but Chick-fil-A is still, at its core, a family business. Several years prior to his death in 2014, legendary restaurant founder S. Truett Cathy promoted his son, Dan, to the chief executive officer position while he stepped back and assumed an "emeritus” leadership role. Dan's younger brother , Bubba, is also at the helm, holding the title of executive vice president.

"My riches are my family and my foster children,” Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy once said, referring to his wife, sons, daughter, and longtime philanthropic work with disadvantaged children.

Truett Cathy got his start in the restaurant business in 1946 with his brother, Ben, by his side. They started small with the Dwarf Grill, later renamed the Dwarf House — so named because of its diminutive size and Seven Dwarfs decor (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). For several years, the brothers worked alternating 12-hour shifts to staff the 24-hour restaurant — that is, until tragedy took Ben Cathy (and a second brother) and left Truett Cathy a solopreneur.

The death of his brother made S. Truett Cathy the captain of his own destiny

One Saturday in 1949, Ben Cathy left the restaurant and met up with his brother, Horace. Both brothers were licensed pilots, so it wasn't a big deal for them to fly a small plane to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sadly, they never made it to their destination. Their plane crashed near Dalton, Georgia, and in the space of a day, Truett Cathy lost two brothers (via Chick-fil-A's website).

He soon purchased Ben's share of the business, and his wife Jeannette joined him there, doing everything from waiting tables to running the cash register (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). When the Cathy children were old enough to work, they joined their parents at the restaurant.

Did Cathy channel his grief and loss into his business, one might wonder? Two years later, after opening a second Dwarf House restaurant in Forest Park, Georgia, Cathy developed what would become the original Chick-fil-A fried chicken sandwich. He experimented with the seasoning formula for the chicken and put the pioneering product on a buttered roll, adding pickle slices for a bit of bite and even more crunch.

Cathy obtained a trademark for the name Chick-fil-A in 1963 and opened his first fried-chicken restaurant in a Georgia mall in 1967. Out of tragedy, a classic American success story was born.