Chick-fil-A unveiled a two-month pop-up rest area for delivery workers on Wednesday, catering to app-based couriers who deliver on the Upper East Side at a time when related efforts by city government are being met with resistance.
Called The Brake Room, the 5,000 square-foot lounge includes free bathrooms, phone charging ports, coffee bar and bike storage areas — though not charging ports for e-bikes — during regular business hours.
Like Chick-fil-A’s franchises — which faced resistance from local consumers and some lawmakers for its anti-LGBT stances rooted in the company’s brand of conservative Christianity — the rest stop will be closed on Sundays.
Chick-fil-A’s pop-up would be the first initiative of its kind by a major fast-food franchise in New York City. No app-based food delivery platform, such as titans Grubhub, DoorDash or Uber, have rolled out similar initiatives either.
The pop-up includes tables and seating for up to 40 people, and basement storage for up to 38 bikes, the company says. It is adorned with portraits of delivery workers and signs urging them to slow down and relax — at “0 MPH.”
Reps for the company said they began developing the pop-up in May of last year, while brainstorming ways to “give back” to the city’s delivery worker community. All of the services are free to all delivery workers, who simply have to show proof of a delivery on any app platform, from any restaurant, within the previous week to be granted entry.
“We don’t have a single cash register on-site,” said Chick-fil-A spokesperson Katie Joiner.
Still, local delivery workers were skeptical of the initiative, which will open its doors to them on Thursday. And others wonder: What’s the catch?
“Having some bike storage is nice,” said one delivery worker nearby, on the corner of 84th Street and Third Avenue, before wheeling off into the intersection.
“This sounds lovely, but I think this is just Chick-fil-A propaganda,” said delivery worker Manny Ramírez in Spanish, championing the city’s conversion of newsstands to rest hubs. “Our goal is to have something more permanent, and this is something they’re doing so that people can see the company’s good side.”
The pop-up is unrelated to the $1 million plan to convert city-owned vacant newsstands into charging ports and “hubs” for delivery workers announced by Sen. Chuck Schumer and mayor Eric Adams last year.
New York City is home to an estimated 65,000 and growing delivery workers, many of whom use e-bikes to meet tight schedules while working as independent contractors for delivery apps. As THE CITY has reported, the pandemic-related growth in demand for such services has coincided with a spike in fires caused by exploding e-bike batteries, some of which have been fatal.
Although this uptick — and the increase in apparently related fires and injuries — has been well documented for years, the city’s efforts to build an infrastructure at scale to support the expanding industry remain nascent.
Both of the rest stations announced by the city have faced fierce resistance. The city walked back its plan to convert a news stand on West Fordham Road in The Bronx, near Fordham University, when neighbors complained that deploying the news stand would require ejecting its longtime operator. On Tuesday, Manhattan’s Community Board 7 voted against converting the abandoned newsstand on Broadway and West 72nd Street.
Spokespeople for the city Parks Department did not respond to requests for comment, and City Hall declined to comment.
Chick-fil-A says they chose the Upper East Side location, on Third Avenue between 83rd and 84th streets, because their 86th Street restaurant, one of 18 in the city, was one of the most popular delivery hubs. Joiner, the Chick-fil-A rep, said the company’s Barclays Center location is another hotspot, but declined to say if the company has plans to open a pop-up location there.
Asked if their companies were considering similar initiatives, a representative for DoorDash said it’s not in the company’s plans. A representative for Uber did not respond to a request for comment.
Of the city’s foundering newsstand stations, Liza Dee, a Grubhub spokesperson, said that the company “is grateful to the City and federal government for their support of our delivery partners with these new worker hubs, and we are ready to work with them in any way we can to make sure this initiative is implemented and expanded successfully.”
Ligia Guallpa, the executive director of the nonprofit behind Los Deliveristas Unidos – the delivery worker advocacy group – said Chick-fil-A’s pop-up was a product of “good marketing.”
“We do think that there needs to be a shared responsibility, not just among the apps, but from the restaurant industry to provide safe space for ‘deliveristas’ to rest during cold or hot weather,” Guallpa said. “We hope that this is being done for the right reasons, not for marketing purposes.”
Ramírez, who delivers in The Bronx, tried visiting the Chick-fil-A rest stop on Tuesday afternoon but was turned away, as it was not yet open. He said he intends to go back again on Thursday to check it out.
“I’m definitely intrigued, but I wonder what their intentions are,” he said in Spanish, noting that ‘deliveristas’ have for years longed for spaces where they can rest but also safely charge their bikes and do quick tune-ups, which the Chick-fil-A rest stop does not allow.
“Is this really for workers, or is this all for publicity?”