Michael Walkup first wanted to own his own franchise when he was just 18 years old. In September 2014, the dream came true when he became the owner-operator of the Chick-fil-A at NorthPark Center. But this July, he’ll give up that store to open the popular chicken eatery’s brand new location on Garland Road.

“July 6 is our official opening date,” Walkup says.

He’s a neighborhood guy who lives on Glasgow, just a few blocks from Woodrow Wilson High School. He moved here three years ago specifically to be in the Lakewood Elementary School zone. His wife, Kristina, is a student at the Dallas Theological Seminary and they are proud parent to 6-month-old daughter, Aries. Walkup says he’s excited to operate a store closer to his neighborhood, and plans to get involved with local charities.

“We’ve already signed on to sponsor the spring musical at Woodrow, even though we won’t be open yet,” he says, explaining that he’ll provide gift cards for the new Chick-fil-A.

Walkup clearly likes musical theater, he also provides free food at the Dallas Summer Musicals. Two days a week, he also provides about 80 free meals to the homeless people living in one of Dallas’ tent cities.

“We always want to give back to our community,” Walkup says.

That includes the entire community, he says. After posting a promotional video on the Lakewood, Dallas Facebook page recently, dozens of commenters said they would not patronize the business, citing Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s views against same-sex marriage. Walkup says he is open to all people, and does not want to be defined by the CEO’s perception. When he mentioned he would allow customers to select five nonprofits for his business to support, several commenters suggested pro-LGBTQ groups like the Human Rights Campaign.

“If an LGBT group is the one chosen, we would be happy to provide them with food,” Walkup says. “We’ll support any nonprofit our customers pick.”

In addition to charitable donations, he’ll also be providing jobs at the new Garland restaurant, upwards of 90, although some of those are already filled with employees he’s bringing from the NorthPark location. But those interested in work should keep an eye out for job listings this May or June.

Walkup says he likes providing opportunities like the ones he was given when he was young. He grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Grapevine, determined to make something of himself.

As a teen he was enamored of the fondue chain restaurant The Melting Pot. When one opened near his home, he went to the owner and asked if he could invest.

“He looked at me like I was this crazy kid,” Walkup says. Instead, he wound up with a job. He loved that the restaurant coveted a fine dining experience, and decided he wanted to open his own chain.

There was just one $100,000 problem.

“It’s an expensive franchise to buy into,” he says.

After some research, he set his sights on Chick-fil-A, which is famous for its $5,000 franchise agreements. The catch, however, is an extensive two-year interview process for owner-operators — the company ensures their brand is protected with rigorous protocols and service policies. Walkup completed the program while pursuing his graduate degree in business, and was one of the lucky few selected to operate a store in Dallas, one of the bigger markets.

As is tradition, Chick-fil-A will offer free meals for a year to the first 100 people who camp out the night before they open, July 5. To keep it neighborhood friendly, campers must show an ID proving they live in one of five East Dallas zip codes to spend the night (kids must be accompanied by an adult, of course).

The new location’s address is 9111 Garland Road, the former Legal Directories Publishing building, next to a Sonic Drive-In and Mid-South Bank. Keep up with the local franchise on its Facebook page.

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