AVON, Ind. – When it’s time for lunch at Chick-fil-A in Avon, it's all hands on deck as the employees try to get through the rush before they can see their favorite customer.
"If we can get to Ernie, it’s been a good day,” laughed owner Chris Tincher.
Ernie, a World War II veteran, first came to the restaurant about a year ago. He comes back nearly every day of the week.
“I like nuggets," Ernie said with a smile. "And if you want a good one, this is the place to come.”
"He's just like the all-American grandpa," Tincher said. "He just makes you feel good.”
At 92 years old, Ernie still drives and works around the house
"We were just fascinated because he’s always like ‘oh I just mowed my lawn,’” Executive Director Melissa Luebbert said. "And he push-mows!”
Every visit, Ernie orders his chicken nugget kid’s meal with a root beer.
"It's the best root beer in town," said Ernie
While Ernie sits down to enjoy his meal, he's joined by other employees who take him up in conversation.
"All of us take turns sitting with him and eating with him," said team leader Amy Chambliss. "We just enjoy his company.”
“He's just so warm," Luebbert said. "Anytime you take his food to him, he’d ask how we were doing, and then it got to where we just formed a friendship.”
It’s a friendship that went a step further this Veterans Day, when Luebbert, Tincher and employee James Cooke had an idea.
“James came up with a really good idea as we were thinking of how to honor you," Tincher said in the video posted to Facebook. "He said 'what if when Ernie came in, he never had to pay for Chick-fil-A again, when he came to our restaurant?' So that was James' idea, he wanted to honor you. So we wanted to say every time you come into this restaurant, you’re family now. So you no longer have to pay for any of your meals.”
In the video, Ernie begins refusing the offer, part of a generation not too keen on receiving a free meal.
“It was kinda of a shock to me," Ernie said of the gesture. "I didn't think I really deserved a free meal.”
But the owner, a veteran himself, felt differently. He knows Ernie’s company means much more to the restaurant than Ernie's money.
"He really does make people feel special," Tincher said. "He's almost more important to our staff than we are to him.”
"I wouldn't know what to do without him," Luebbert said. "He is definitely a bright spot in our day.”
Even though Ernie can choose anything he wants on the menu for free, he still sticks with the kid’s meal, just thankful for the new friendship's he's formed.
"It just makes me feel good," Ernie said. "It makes me feel good because people treat me nice."