The International Drive tourism corridor is known for its wild attractions and numerous hotels. Beyond the handful of ‘world’s largest’ fast food venues and pizza buffets, much of the corridor is filled with higher-end convention-focused dining options. Still, as tourists gorge themselves on endless pizza buffets or enjoy steaks after a day at the convention center, many locals struggle to find reasonable food options. As thousands of new apartment units are developed in the area and hundreds of new office jobs, the lack of quick, affordable dining options has been magnified.
Iconic southern fast-food chain Chick-fil-A will soon provide a new alternative.
Broke Morris is enrolled at the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management and works at a nearby attraction. Like other students and workers in the area, she’s struggled to find dining in the area that provides healthy options. “I typically make my own food because I find that the spots to eat are limited, especially with healthier options. If I do eat out, I prepare to go to a sit-down restaurant since those are some of the only options in the area,” explained Morris. She stated one of the only fast-casual options easily accessible to the UCF Rosen campus is the nearby Subway.
It's not just Morris who is excited about the option of a new Chick-fil-A coming to Universal Boulevard, walking distance from the campus and nearby apartments. She noted many of her classmates are forced to drive to nearby communities of Williamsburg or tackle traffic on Sand Lake Road to get fast food. That has meant some have opted instead to get meals from the nearby Publix.
While Chick-fil-A is best known for the fried chicken sandwiches and milkshakes, the Georgia-based chain offers many healthier options, such a swapping fries for yogurt or fresh fruit. There are also numerous grilled chicken items and salads on the menu. Even with Publix and Subway, there aren't many healthy options in the area. Morris hopes the Chick-fil-A is the start of a new wave of healthier options. “Since the tourist corridor lacks healthier food options, I have had to settle for unhealthy items in the past. If I am running errands and need fast food, I have to settle for the food in the area, which is very limited.”
The new Chick-fil-A is located at 9500 McKenna Drive, just in front of The Courtney and The Addison apartment complexes. The location is a short six-minute walk from the Rosen Hospitality UCF campus. It is also near Universal Orlando’s South Campus, home to the upcoming Epic Universe theme park and multiple hotels. The investment by Universal into the area has sped up development along Universal Boulevard, which runs parallel to International Drive. For years, Universal Boulevard sat mostly undeveloped with just a handful of hotels or restaurants along it despite the convention center, UCF Rosen school, and numerous apartment complexes all in the surrounding area.
Large multi-use trails line the well landscaped Universal Boulevard, and Lynx buses regularly service the area. So far, that hasn’t translated into increased pedestrian traffic for the area. In part thanks to the lack of destinations along the road.
While a McDonald’s with the world’s largest PlayPlace and the world’s largest Checkers are both in the vicinity, accessing them requires navigating through the traffic that plagues Sand Lake Road. Another McDonald's is closer to the UCF Rosen campus, but it’s also too far to walk to. The lack of Chick-fil-A throughout the International Drive corridor is surprising considering its popularity in Florida. One study found that Chick-fil-A is the most searched drive-thru in the state, beating out Starbucks and McDonald’s. Whenever a new Chick-fil-A readies to open, large groups gather days in advance, some dressed in cow motif, a nod to the chain’s mascots. Despite their popularity locally, Chick-fil-A has stayed out of the high-traffic International Drive corridor.
With Universal confirming its new South Campus theme park development and new connections via Destination Parkway, the Universal Boulevard corridor has seen new development interest. Two thousand feet to the east of the new Chick-fil-A, Universal is working with Wendover Housing to develop a village of workforce housing. That project will be including 1,000 apartments in a walkable town center-style complex. The new housing development is within walking distance from Epic Universe and nearby retail, such as the aforementioned Publix.
The Chick-fil-A is just the start of the larger shift in developed this corridor into a viable, pedestrian-accessible district. Morris has taken note of the changes happening in the area. “I’ve seen family businesses starting to pop up in new areas. [The area has] definitely seen an increase in diversity when it to shopping.”
Permits for Chick-fil-A are ongoing, with construction expected to begin by the end of the year. No official opening date has yet to be shared.
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