(CNN) — S. Truett Cathy, who grew his boneless chicken sandwich business from one store in Georgia to the Chick-fil-A chain — a $5 billion company with more than 1,800 locations — died early Monday morning.
He was 93. He had been ailing for some time.
“He died peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones,” Chick-fil-A said in a statement posted on its website.
Deeply religious, Cathy made the decision when he opened his first store in Hapeville, Georgia, that it would stay closed on Sundays.
Sixty-eight years later, that policy still stands at all Chick-fil-A stores.
Dreaming up the sandwich
Cathy first dreamed up his concept for a chicken sandwich after a poultry distributor wondered if there was a way to use leftover chicken from meals prepared for plane passengers.
He tried it on his customers at his Hapeville store, the Dwarf Grill. The first Chick-fil-A opened at a mall in Atlanta in 1967.
Today, Chick-fil-A has surpassed KFC in U.S. sales.
But the company Cathy founded remains privately held and family-owned.
Wading into controversy
In recent years, Cathy handed over the reins of the company to his son, Dan, and assumed the title of chairman emeritus.
Chick-fil-A’s leadership shares Cathy’s religious beliefs, openly espousing biblical values not only in its operating principles but in its conservative definition of family as well.
Gay and lesbian rights groups have had a longstanding beef with Chick-fil-A over what they claim is the company’s opposition to gay marriage.
In 2012, the company was forced to weather a firestorm of criticism when Dan Cathy weighed in on the issue in an interview with The Baptist Press.
“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy said. “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”