The first permanent Little Blue Menu, a restaurant created by Chick-fil-A, opened in College Park on Thursday following controversy over harmed walkability in the area during the proposal process last year.
The ghost kitchen, which is a business that prepares food for online orders only, is on the old Applebee’s Grill + Bar property on Route 1. It offers classic Chick-Fil-A food in addition to burgers, wings and other new menu items.
Little Blue Menu customers order their food through the Chick-fil-A app for pick-up or delivery. There are tables in the large parking lot area but no indoor dining option.
Paige Tyree, who was a customer on opening day, said she is unsure about the new design concept and the lack of indoor seating.
“I’m just curious about how it’ll turnout with students wanting to have a more community space because I feel like it’s not as apt for that,” the senior criminal justice major said.
More than 100 full and part-time employees are running the distribution kitchen.
College Park resident Heather Lilley said she was counting down the days to get a meal from Little Blue Menu and that she likes this new format.
“Not very many people are ordering in-store anymore,” Lilley said. “It’s so close, we can order before we leave the house and by the time we’re here, it’s ready.”
College Park was chosen for this Little Blue location because the city is a hub for innovation, L.J. Yankosky, senior director of the innovation and new ventures team at Chick-fil-A, wrote in a company press release. Chick-fil-A hopes to become an “integral part of the local dining scene,” Yankosky said in the release.
Little Blue Menu will be a part of the Chick-Fil-A Shared Table program, which will donate surplus food to local food banks and nonprofits. The corporation will also be donating $25,000 to Feeding America to support Capital Area Food Bank, according to the release.
But some community members are still concerned about the effect the business will have on the city’s walkability.
District 3 council member Stuart Adams said that he believes the development does not align with the walkable, smart growth vision of downtown College Park.
The council member added that he is concerned that the development could cause additional traffic. The fast food establishment has a collection of delivery cars, vans and bicycles to conduct deliveries around the area.
“It troubles me to walk past the restaurant and see a fleet of delivery vehicles that will add congestion to our roads,” Adams wrote in an email statement. ““I do believe the Little Blue Menu will be successful in this location but fear that it will be a net negative to the community, primarily due to traffic concerns.”
During a June 2022 community meeting, some raised concerns about whether it was appropriate for Little Blue Menu to have a delivery-based business set-up in a walkable area, according to a council agenda packet.
The ghost kitchen is in a “walkable node” of the city, according to the packet, with an emphasis on pedestrian safety and amenities. At the time, city staff said the business was vehicle-oriented, and therefore prohibited in the US1 Corridor Sector Plan Development District Standards, a plan that guides development on Route 1.
The Prince George’s County planning department approved the application for the ghost kitchen in 2022, despite criticisms from both council and community members.
Tyree added that while she likes the menu concept, she doesn’t like its car-oriented design. The only indoor area available for customers is a pick-up counter.
“It’s just a giant parking lot instead of more businesses here,” Tyree said. “I feel like it’s a misuse of space, especially in College Park where we want it to be more walkable.”