Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. together are among the top national chains, with a combined footprint in nearly every U.S. state (more on that later). But what’s the deal with the two chains both having the exact same look and design, with a really similar menu? Read on to learn 10 things you didn’t know about Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
Carl Karcher’s locations of Carl’s Drive-In Barbeque were big operations — drive-ins with plenty of seating and a wide-ranging menu. He named his smaller, burger-focused spinoffs Carl’s Jr. because they were just that: smaller than his flagships.
Hardee may have been a good businessman, but he was also a bit of a gambler. In 1961, after a successful year of business, he brought on two entrepreneurs named James Carson Gardner and Leonard Rawls to help expand the restaurant. After opening a second successful outpost, Hardee lost his controlling share in the company to the duo in a game of poker, and decided to then sell his remaining shares to them outright. The chain rapidly expanded, and went public in 1963; Gardner left when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966.
Hardee’s was purchased by a Canadian company called Imasco in 1981, which also owned the Roy Rogers chain. For a brief period in the 1990s, Hardee’s locations sold fried chicken and roast beef sandwiches based on Roy Rogers’ recipes; according to the company, it can still be found at a few isolated locations.
Carl’s Jr. was actually a pretty trailblazing chain. In 1977, it became the first fast-food chain to offer salad bars in all of its 200 locations, all of which were in California, and it was also one of the first to offer grilled chicken sandwiches.
In 2011, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s both rolled out charbroiled turkey burgers, becoming the first national chains to do so. Then in December 2014, Carl’s Jr. became the first fast-food chain to serve an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty with no added hormones or steroids; an all-natural turkey burger (also the industry’s first) followed in December 2015.
In 2011, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. launched Stars for Heroes, an annual in-store fundraising campaign to benefit dozens military-focused charities. The 2016 campaign raised $1.5 million, bringing the grand total to $6.5 million.
You know which commercials we’re talking about: the ones with models seductively eating burgers, the most infamous of which starred Paris Hilton. Carl Karcher, who passed away in 2008, lived to see some of those commercials, and hated them. The deeply religious father of 12 (who famously handed out prayer cards and coupons to people he met on the street) was reportedly “heartbroken” that the company had “taken such an amoral act.”
If you live in the northeast and want to get your Thickburger fix, you’re sadly out of luck. New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are the only states with no locations of either chain.