History of KFC

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is an American fast-food restaurant chain founded in 1930 by Colonel Harland Sanders, an entrepreneur who started selling fried chicken from a roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky. From a single restaurant, there are now over 25,000 around the world across 145 territories and countries. The fast-food chain is now the fourth largest in operation after Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Subway. 

Birth and early years

Sanders was born in 1890 on a farm in Henryville, Indiana. When he was five years old, he lost his father which forced his mother to become the breadwinner and secure employment at a cannery. 

Without the presence of either parent, Sanders was often tasked with cooking for his two younger siblings. His mother showed him various recipes, including those for pan-fried chicken, country ham, and homemade biscuits. 

Fried chicken in a gas station

Sanders dropped out of school at age 12 after becoming horrified at the thought of having to learn algebra. He then worked on a farm for a few years and subsequently held several titles, including fireman, insurance salesman, and streetcar conductor.

At some point in the early 1930s, Sanders took over the management of a gas station at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. Travelers stopping for gas would remark that there were no decent restaurants in the area, so Sanders began cooking his childhood recipes in the station’s cramped storage room. Sanders served diners in a small area with a single table and six chairs. This, one could argue, constituted the first KFC restaurant.

Buoyed by his success, Sanders then opened the Harland Sanders Court and Café, a motel and restaurant capable of seating 142 diners.

Secret herbs and spices

To cater to the increased demand for his chicken, Sanders then managed to perfect a pressure cooking technique to speed up the cooking process without sacrificing quality.

In the early 1940s, he also developed his blend of 11 herbs and spices that remain a secret to this day. 

Franchising

Sanders experienced a reduction in business soon after thanks to the advent of the Second World War. Gas rationing and the construction of a highway that would bypass his restaurant also reduced tourist numbers.

To protect the viability of his business, Sanders decided to travel around America pitching his fried chicken concept to other restaurant owners. After famously being rejected 1,009 times, the first KFC franchise opened in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1952. 

The now instantly recognizable KFC chicken bucket, with its distinctive red and white stripes, was developed five years later by Dave Thomas. Thomas was instrumental in the early years of the company, streamlining its menu and encouraging Sanders to appear in advertising commercials and become the face of the brand.

Thomas eventually founded Wendy’s in 1969 after selling his KFC franchises back to Sanders. 

Sanders sells KFC

In 1964 at the age of 75 and with over 600 franchises distributing his fried chicken, Sanders sold KFC to a group of investors in a deal worth $2 million

However, as part of the deal, he maintained control of Canadian operations and was paid as a KFC brand ambassador for life.

Name changes

In 1990, Kentucky Fried Chicken was forced to change its name after the Commonwealth of Kentucky trademarked “Kentucky”.

The company became KFC, an acronym many consumers were using already.

The modern face of KFC

Today, KFC is owned by Yum! Brands, an American fast-food corporation that also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. The company had to stop using its “Finger lickin’ good” catchphrase in 2020 to encourage safer hygiene practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Modern KFC restaurants offer much more health-conscious menu items that are packaged in more sustainable materials. The company is also well known for using technology to grow the business, including the use of voice-activated devices and virtual reality-based staff training. 

What’s more, trials of so-called “smart restaurants” in China have started where facial-recognition technology is utilized to remember a customer’s favorite foods and offer them personalized suggestions.

Key takeaways:

  • Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is an American fast-food restaurant chain founded in 1930 by Colonel Harland Sanders, an entrepreneur who started selling fried chicken from a roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky.
  • Sanders held many different jobs but ultimately returned to cooking his childhood food for others in a gas station he managed in the 1930s. War, inflated gas prices, and an interstate bypass then reduced tourist numbers, forcing Sanders to pitch his franchise idea to restaurant owners around the United States.
  • The first franchise opened in 1952 in Utah, with the number of franchises growing to 600 by the time Sanders sold the company twelve years later. Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC in 1990 after the Commonwealth of Kentucky trademarked the name.

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