Cobra Cabana’s Gay-Fil-A is not only a statement against Chick-Fil-A’s anti-LGBTQ politics, but also a damn good chicken sandwich.
“All freakies are welcome — I’ve always cared about freaky scenes and freaky people, and their values are very significant to me,” says Valient Himself, one of three owners of Cobra Cabana. Himself, who sings in metal band Valient Thorr, got together with Rob Skotis, bassist of thrash band Iron Reagan, and Josh Novicki, a chef with restaurant experience, to open Cobra Cabana last summer. Located in Carver, just north of the VCU campus, this neighborhood bar and grill strives to be inclusive to everyone, especially those who feel like outsiders.
One particular group often deemed outsiders that Cobra Cabana hopes to welcome into their space is the LGBTQ community. This, of course, puts them in stark contrast with Chick-Fil-A, who officially became the third-largest restaurant chain in America as of 2019, according to Business Insider. In 2017 alone, Chick-Fil-A were found by a ThinkProgress investigation to have donated nearly $2 million to three different groups with anti-LGBTQ agendas.
“I’ve taken a stand several times when big corporations would make their views known to the world and it was a pretty messed up view,” Himself said, “The popular ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ chain blantantly refuses to hire and discriminates against gay kids and they are not queer-positive at all.”
In March, Chick-Fil-A held a “Beloved Benefit” in its founding city of Atlanta, raising money for a variety of non-profit organizations working to help underprivileged communities in the area. The benefit’s name was based on an idea of the “Beloved Community” popularized by Dr. Martin Luther King. Through actions like these, Chick-Fil-A helps shift emphasis from the more discriminatory aspects of their religiously-driven business model to a more positive portrayal. But Valient Himself sees through this.
“I haven’t eaten at that chain in over ten years because of their values,” Himself said. “I want to be able to stand up to them and say: they’re closed on Sunday? We’ll be open on Sundays, and offer an alternative to this corporate garbage — but make it even better.”
Cobra Cabana chef Lauren Vincelli originally came up with the idea of making an alternative to Chick-Fil-A’s well-known chicken sandwich. Himself and the other owners thought it was a perfect way to show their opposition to Chick-Fil-A’s agenda.
“Lauren pitched this great idea, and we ran with it,” said Himself. “She helped us pick [LGBTQ youth support and advocacy organization] Side By Side, a local non-profit here in town, to donate the proceeds to.” Side By Side receives 10 percent of the proceeds generated by the sandwich special.
The Gay-Fil-A, as Cobra Cabana has dubbed it, is a pickled bun chicken-breast sandwich, which comes with waffle fries and a house-made Polynesian sauce. A vegan version of it is offered as well, and the Gay-Fil-A is only offered on Sunday particularly to make a political statement.
“It is reminiscent of a Chick-fil-A sandwich, from what I can remember,” said Himself. “Come get a better version of it on a day that they won’t even sell it.”
The Gay-Fil-A made it’s debut about six months ago and it has been one of the best sellers on Sundays.
“If someone enters on Sunday and sees the Gay-Fil-A, they ask about it, and almost always buy it,” said Himself. “It’s a good system to have specials, and in turn has generated money for the local nonprofit.”
As a restaurant with roots in the community and an independent ownership, Cobra Cabana is glad to take stands against oppression whenever they have the opportunity. Indeed, after they learned of the Yuengling beer company’s endorsement of Trump, and CEO Dick Yuengling’s defiant response to the boycott that ensued, Cobra Cabana removed Yuengling from their draft list, despite having carried it since they opened. “I’m not going to support Trump, and I’m not going to support hatred, xenophobia, racism and homophobia,” said Himself.
As far as he can tell, making these kinds of decisions has only helped Cobra Cabana’s standing in the community. “I’m not scared of any kind of weird backlash,” Himself said. “We’ve been supported in our neighborhood and city because of this, and we appreciate everyone in our community that supports not only us, but also the local LGBTQIA community.”
Cobra Cabana is located at 901 W. Marshall St in Carver, and are open every day from 11 AM til 2 AM. Don’t let another Sunday go by without trying their Gay-Fil-A — the opportunity to finally eat a chicken sandwich with a clear conscience isn’t one you want to miss.
Written by Brea Hill and Marilyn Drew Necci. Photos by Brea Hill.