This post is dedicated to my late uncle Nestor, who loved his KFC.
On this Day:
On March 20, 1930 American fast food restaurant chain “KFC” (Kentucky Fried Chicken) was founded by Colonel Harland Sanders in North Corbin, Kentucky.
Colonel Harland David Sanders (September 9, 1890 – December 16, 1980) was an American businessman, best known for founding fast food chicken restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (also known as KFC) and later acting as the company’s brand ambassador and symbol. His name and image are still symbols of the company. The title “colonel” is an honorific title, the highest awarded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Kentucky Colonel, and is not a military rank. The Governor of Kentucky bestows the honor of a colonel’s commission, by issuance of letters patent.
Sanders held a number of jobs in his early life, such as steam engine stoker, insurance salesman, and filling station operator. He began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in North Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. During that time, Sanders developed his “secret recipe” and his patented method of cooking chicken in a pressure fryer. Sanders recognized the potential of the restaurant franchising concept, and the first KFC franchise opened in South Salt Lake, Utah, in 1952. When his original restaurant closed, he devoted himself full-time to franchising his fried chicken throughout the country.
In 1952, Sanders franchised his secret recipe “Kentucky Fried Chicken” for the first time, to Pete Harman of South Salt Lake, Utah, the operator of one of that city’s largest restaurants. In the first year of selling the product, restaurant sales more than tripled, with 75% of the increase coming from sales of fried chicken. For Harman, the addition of fried chicken was a way of differentiating his restaurant from competitors; in Utah, a product hailing from Kentucky was unique and evoked imagery of Southern hospitality. Don Anderson, a sign painter hired by Harman, coined the name Kentucky Fried Chicken. After Harman’s success, several other restaurant owners franchised the concept and paid Sanders $0.04 per chicken.
Sanders believed that his North Corbin restaurant would remain successful indefinitely, but at age 65 sold it after the new Interstate 75 reduced customer traffic. Left only with his savings and $105 a month from Social Security, Sanders decided to begin to franchise his chicken concept in earnest, and traveled the US looking for suitable restaurants. After closing the North Corbin site, Sanders and his wife, Claudia, opened a new restaurant and company headquarters in Shelbyville in 1959. Often sleeping in the back of his car, Sanders visited restaurants, offered to cook his chicken, and if workers liked it negotiated franchise rights.
Although such visits required much time, eventually potential franchisees began visiting Sanders instead. He ran the company while Claudia mixed and shipped the spices to restaurants. The franchise approach became highly successful; KFC was one of the first fast food chains to expand internationally, opening outlets in Canada and later in the UK, Australia, Mexico and Jamaica by the mid-1960s. Sanders obtained a patent protecting his method of pressure frying chicken in 1962, and trademarked the phrase “It’s Finger Lickin’ Good” in 1963.
The company’s rapid expansion to more than 600 locations became overwhelming for the aging Sanders. In 1964, then 73 years old, he sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation for $2 million ($16.7 million today) to a partnership of Kentucky businessmen headed by John Y. Brown Jr., a 29-year-old lawyer and future governor of Kentucky; and Jack C. Massey, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur. Sanders became a salaried brand ambassador. The initial deal did not include the Canadian operations, which Sanders retained, nor the franchising rights in the UK, Florida, Utah, and Montana, which Sanders had already sold to others.
In 1965, Sanders moved to Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, to oversee his Canadian franchises and continued to collect franchise and appearance fees both in Canada and in the US. Sanders bought and lived in a bungalow at 1337 Melton Drive in the Lakeview area of Mississauga from 1965 until his death in 1980. In September 1970 he and his wife were baptized in the Jordan River. He also befriended Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell.
Sanders remained the company’s symbol after selling it, traveling 200,000 miles (320,000 km) a year on the company’s behalf and filming many TV commercials and appearances. He retained much influence over executives and franchisees, who respected his culinary expertise and feared what The New Yorker described as “the force and variety of his swearing” when a restaurant or the company varied from what executives described as “the Colonel’s chicken”. One change the company made was to the gravy, which Sanders had bragged was so good that “it’ll make you throw away the durn chicken and just eat the gravy” but which the company simplified to reduce time and cost. As late as 1979 Sanders made surprise visits to KFC restaurants, and if the food disappointed him, he denounced it to the franchisee as “God-damned slop” or pushed it onto the floor. In 1973, Sanders sued Heublein Inc.—the then parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken—over the alleged misuse of his image in promoting products he had not helped develop. In 1975, Heublein Inc. unsuccessfully sued Sanders for libel after he publicly described their gravy as being “sludge” with a “wall-paper taste”.
Sanders and his wife reopened their Shelbyville restaurant as “Claudia Sanders, The Colonel’s Lady” and served KFC-style chicken there as part of a full-service dinner menu, and talked about expanding the restaurant into a chain. He was sued by the company for it. After reaching a settlement with Heublein, he sold the Colonel’s Lady restaurant, and it has continued to operate, currently as the Claudia Sanders Dinner House. It serves his “original recipe” fried chicken as part of its non-fast-food dinner menu, and it is the only non-KFC restaurant that serves an authorized version of the fried chicken recipe.
Sanders remained critical of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s food. In the late 1970s he told the Louisville Courier-Journal:
My God, that gravy is horrible. They buy tap water for 15 to 20 cents a thousand gallons and then they mix it with flour and starch and end up with pure wallpaper paste. And I know wallpaper paste, by God, because I’ve seen my mother make it. … There’s no nutrition in it and they ought not to be allowed to sell it. … crispy recipe is nothing in the world but a damn fried doughball stuck on some chicken.
Before his death Sanders used his stock holdings to create the Colonel Harland Sanders Charitable Organization, a registered Canadian charity. The wing of Mississauga Hospital for women’s and children’s care is named The Colonel Harland Sanders Family Care Centre in honour of his substantial donation. Sanders’ foundation has also made sizeable donations to other Canadian children’s hospitals including the McMaster Children’s Hospital, IWK Health Centre, and Stollery Children’s Hospital. The Toronto-based foundation disbursed $500,000 to other Canadian charities in 2016, according to its tax return filed with the Canada Revenue Agency (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
What did Colonel Harland Sanders say when he saw a chicken cross the road?
“I missed one?”
Second, a Song:
How KFC Was Made from a Gas Station Chicken Recipe courtesy of Hook and YouTube.com.
Making the perfect fried chicken as we know it — juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside — used to be a luxury. But a man named Harland Sanders changed that after mastering his own recipe – inside a gas station.
Here is How KFC was made from a Gas Station Chicken Recipe. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“I’m against retiring. The thing that keeps a man alive is having something to do.” – Colonel Sanders
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky