Holy Chicken? Holy Cow! Was it all a stunt by ‘Super Size Me’ filmmaker?

By Andrew King ThisWeek News • Saturday November 19, 2016 10:33 PM

For Morgan Spurlock’s most recent act, the filmmaker tricked most of central Ohio.

Spurlock, best known for his documentaries and especially the Academy-Award nominated “Super Size Me,” has recently told anyone who would listen that his focus has changed.

Instead of continuing to rail against the fast-food industry that he worked to expose — his “Super Size Me” showed what happened after he ate nothing but food from McDonald’s for 30 days — he recently announced that he would bring a “pop-up” chicken restaurant to the Columbus area.

In a Dispatch article that ran on the front of the Business section in Saturday’s paper, Spurlock said his new Holy Chicken on Schrock Road in Westerville would be a healthier alternative to other chicken restaurants. And he said he would open it for only four days to get feedback from customers before a permanent location was opened.

Spurlock promised a new “chicken experience” and “fast-food made with integrity,” saying Holy Chicken would use “100 percent natural free-range chickens.”

So when Spurlock opened on Saturday at the 2405 Schrock Road location, it was with fanfare. Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s office was there for a ribbon cutting, as were representatives from the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Connects Columbus and Experience Columbus. The state House of Representatives sent an official proclamation.

“We want people to be able to eat food that’s good for them and healthy, so we’re very excited about the energy you’re bringing to our city,” Ginther spokeswoman Robin Davis said to Spurlock at the grand opening. At one point, hundreds of people in a line wrapped around the building awaiting the healthier chicken sandwiches.

But as Spurlock cut the ribbon and guests munched on the food, cards on the tables told a different story. The chickens used at the restaurant were raised “pretty much the same as all industrial chickens,” the cards said.

“Every year these chains continue to sell us the same tired food that they always have, but now with improved marketing and spin,” Spurlock said. He pointed out that, by a restaurant using certain colors, certain signs and certain words, customers feel as though they are doing better and eating healthier, when perhaps they aren’t.

And Spurlock pointed that out throughout the Saturday “grand opening.”

“The color green makes you feel healthy and relaxed,” large letters on the walls told customers. Spurlock said the color orange he selected “makes us seem cheerful and youthful and way hipper than those other restaurants.”

A sign at the cash register suggested that the wood it was on would give customers “thoughts of nature, trees, cute little farms with barns and other healthy stuff.”

Few customers, however, seemed to realize what was going on, as they continued to buy the $7.50 chicken sandwiches that a Tweet later said sold out by 3 p.m.

Tonya Salisbury, however, was paying attention. The Westerville resident said she took her daughters to Holy Chicken because she supports animal rights. But when she read the cards on the tables and the writing on the wall, she left “disgusted.”

“I showed my daughters and we left immediately,” she said.

Spurlock wouldn’t say whether this stunt was all part of perhaps another documentary. He did, however, have people coming into the restaurant sign waivers to be filmed. Spurlock said only that he “shoots everything,” and said it still might have something to do with really opening a restaurant.

“We’ll go back, we’ll use a lot of this material to talk to investors to say, ‘Here’s what we have. Here’s the reaction from people,’” he said.

City officials couldn’t be reached later to talk about what Spurlock did.

After dozens of customers had purchased sandwiches, Spurlock looked on and agreed with a smile that the crowd completely bought the “marketing and spin” that he and Holy Chicken sold them.

“And now they’re going to buy all the chicken sandwiches.”