ATLANTA – Chick-fil-A Inc. began constructing three stand-alone restaurants in Aurora, Orland Park and Wheaton, Ill., which kicks off the Atlanta-based chain’s expansion into the Chicagoland area. The company anticipates opening six more restaurants throughout the Chicago area in 2011 – which represents 10% of its overall annual restaurant growth. Chick-fil-A opens an average of 75 or more new restaurants annually.

Company executives point out Chick-fil-A has always been an innovator in the quick-dining restaurant business. In the early 1960s, the chain’s 89-year-old founder, S. Truett Cathy, created his original boneless breast of chicken sandwich. Today, Mr. Cathy’s oldest son, Dan, serves as president and chief operating officer of the chain.

This year, Chick-fil-A plans to open 78 new restaurants nationwide. With nearly 1,500 locations in 38 states and Washington, D.C., Chick-fil-A’s expansion into the Chicago market is part of its long-term growth strategy of planting restaurants in major metropolitan markets where the chain does not have a presence. The Chicago expansion joins recent developments in other major markets such as Southern California, Kansas City, Mo., and Phoenix, Ariz.

Customers have been requesting a spicy chicken sandwich, which the chain will rollout on June 7. The spicy chicken sandwich is Chick-fil-A’s most anticipated product rollout in 20 years and marks the first new sandwich the chain has added since introducing the Chick-fil-A Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich in 1989.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A Inc. is the nation’s second-largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain (based on sales), credited with inventing the boneless breast of chicken sandwich and first introducing the chicken nugget concept. The chain has grown to include nearly 1,500 restaurants in 38 states and Washington D.C. In 2009, Chick-fil-A produced record sales of $3.2 billion – an 8.6% overall increase and a 2.5% same-store sales gain that helped extend the chain’s streak of consecutive sales gains to 42 years.