Top 10 Facts About Carls Jr.
While you may have never eaten at a Carls
Jr. it’s safe to say you’re most likely familiar
with the burger fast-food chain that is known
for its commercials that feature scantily
clad women (famous or otherwise) eating their
delicious, sexy burgers.
The chain was founded back during World War
II, by Margaret Karcher and her husband, whose
name escapes me at the moment.
Oh yeah, his name was Carl.
So, as part of our ongoing deep dives into
all things fast-food, let’s take a glimpse
at the top ten things you might not know about
Carls Jr.
Carls Jr.
Started Out as a Hot Dog Stand
If you’ve learned anything from our fast-food
series it’s that a lot of the chains that
exist today were pretty different when they
originally started.
Because fast food restaurants (or hamburgers,
really) didn’t exist until 1916-ish, there
weren’t really any places for people to sit
down with their family to eat processed meat
at discounted prices.
The company that would eventually become Carls
Jr. actually got its start as a hot-dog stand
in Los Angeles, when truck driver Carl Karcher
and his wife, Margaret, realized that his
neighborhood had a ton of really successful
hot dog stands.
And so, he left the road behind for hot dogs,
which we’re pretty sure was 90% road-kill
back in the 1940’s.
The couple used all of their savings (a whopping
$15) and took a loan out against their car
to fund their stand, and it turned out to
be the best idea of their lives.
Their stand was a hit, and they were on their
way to creating Carls Jr. after opening three
more hot dog stands in-and-around Southern
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Where’d that “Junior” Come From?
As you also may have noticed, one of the owners
of Carls Jr. did have the name “Carl”,
which would end up being the namesake for
thousands of fast food restaurants.
But where did the “Junior” come from?
It turns out that it was a marketing gimmick
– shocking, we know.
After the Karchers found a lot of success
with their four hot dog stands, they decided
to move into the actual sit-down restaurant
business by opening a full-service restaurant
in Anaheim, California a mere four years after
they began their foray into foodservice.
That restaurant was named ‘Carl’s Drive-In
Barbeque’, and while it did also sell hot
dogs it also expanded upon that by selling
hamburgers, something that had only been introduced
to the world about thirty-years prior.
Nearly a decade later, in 1956, the Karcher’s
decided to open two new restaurants that were
basically smaller versions of the Drive-In
Barbeque and because of that Carl added the
“Jr.” to the name
to let people know that they should expect
a smaller version of what they had grown to
love at the Drive-in.
Carl did have a son and did name him Junior,
but because they don’t share a middle name,
he isn’t technically a ‘junior’ – though
I bet he wouldn’t mind telling his buddies
he’s the one and only Carls Junior!
It Wasn’t All Success at Carls Jr.
It’s safe to say that the restaurant business
is the absolute hardest industry to get into
whether you’re a world-class chef or former
truck driver like Carl Karcher was.
So, while they clearly were lucky and also
able to beat the statistics (that show that
the majority of new restaurants close within
five years of opening), that doesn’t mean
that it was all roses and hundred dollar bills
for Karcher and family.
Perhaps finally outdone by his ambition, the
elder Carl wanted to expand on his fast-food
empire after the success of the first couple
Carl’s Jr.s – and who could blame him?
That strategy worked with his hot-dog stands,
and clearly, people have responded well to
Carl’s Jr. across the United States and Canada
to this day.
The problem with this expansion perhaps was
that Karcher strayed from what he was good
at, and what his customers knew him for, such
as a Mexican fast-food chain called ‘Taco
de Carlos’, in an attempt to
take on places like Taco Bell by offering
hamburgers and things like their “California
Carl created a new corporation to handle this
expansion which was, unsurprisingly named
Carl Karcher Enterprises, or CKE.
By the 80’s CKE was forced to sell all 17
Taco de Carlos locations, but he wasn’t done
– CKE then tried to get into the coffee business
by opening a Scottish Themed chain called
‘Scot’s Coffee Shops’, because everyone knows
that Scotland is known for its…
That failed as well.
There’s a Reason Carls Jr Reminds You of Hardees
(or Vice Versa)
Depending on where you live in the United
States you may have a bunch of Carl’s Jr.’s
in your state, a bunch of Hardees, some of
both, or neither.
The rule of thumb is that the West Coast and
Idaho down through Texas are Carl’s Jr. territory.
The Midwest and part of the East Coast up
to Pennsylvania have Hardees, Colorado and
Oklahoma have both Hardees and Carl’s Jr.
(lucky, lucky bastards) and the upper-Northeast
of the country starting at New York state
have neither.
So, if you’ve seen ads for Carl’s Jr. or Hardees
and wonder why they have such similar branding,
it’s not a mistake and no you’re not crazy,
it’s because Carl’s Jr.’s parent company,
the aforementioned CKE Restaurants purchased
Hardees in 1997.
For $327 Million dollars, and to save money
across the board, basically rolled out a lot
of the same branding for each restaurant,
which makes sense as there is little overlap
and thus customers aren’t confused.
However, unlike a lot of other fast-food places,
Carl’s Jr does attempt to reflect the location
that they’re in with their menu, with things
like Southern-style biscuits for breakfast
or typical western and southwestern lunch
or dinner in Texas.
Texas was a Hard Get for Carls Jr.
There are a lot of sayings about Texas like
Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Don’t Mess
with Texas and Remember the Alamo.
None of those have much to do with this next
topic but if our foray into everything fast
food has taught us anything else, it’s that
Texas loves it some fast-food and seems to
have every single kind of fast-food chain
known to man.
So, it may come as a surprise that a place
like Carl’s Jr. which is known for its large
and unhealthy burgers, as well as the determination
to add regionally-specific fare to their menu,
was resisted on a few different occasions
over the course of a couple decades.
It turns out that CKE Restaurants attempted
to move into Texas in the 1980’s, but they
couldn’t crack the market and had to regroup
and try again in the 1990’s, which didn’t
work either.
Not until recently did they figure out what
works in Texas – and that’s mostly price point
and changing things up even more on their
menu to add that flexibility.
In fact, the Dallas/Fort Worth area, as well
as Houston, are actually the top growing markets
for CKE Restaurants since 2009.
Time will tell whether or not they’ll also
include Hardees in their Texas growth plan
but you’d have to assume that option is on
the table, as Texans love their fast-food.
Don’t Mess with Texas, indeed.
The Real Carl Got Busted for Insider Trading
If there’s anything that this list has taught
you thus far it’s that one of the founders
of Carl’s Jr., Carl Karcher, was either really
bad at naming things or was something of a
While like with most things the answer is
probably somewhere in between, it’s safe to
say that Karcher wasn’t the world’s best businessman.
From his original hot dog stands to his move
into the Mexican arena in the 1970’s, and
chain coffee businesses in the 1980’s, he
seemed to just copy whatever was working for
other places every time he opened a business.
That lack of business know-how, or possible
narcissism, ended up getting Karcher in some
trouble after he took CKE public in 1981.
The thing about taking a company public is
that it can bring in a lot more money but
once that happens you’re beholden to your
shareholders, which can be a hard transition
for a lot of people to make.
It seemed to be working for Karcher though,
until 1988 when the CKE stock plummeted.
While that may have gotten him in trouble
with his shareholders or the board, it was
way worse than that for Karcher, as he caught
the eye of the Securities and Exchange Commission
who noticed that six members of Karcher’s
family all sold their stock before the stock
That’s called sharing insider information
and is a huge no-no.
While Karcher avoided jail-time, he was forced
to pay $664,000 plus other fines to the SEC
as part of his settlement.
After that, it was only a matter of time before
he was ousted from his role as CEO by his
board, in 1993.
Karcher was a Family Man
If you were to say one thing about Carl Karcher
from what you’ve learned thus far, it’s
that nothing ever seemed to be enough for
That apparently extended to his family as
well, as he and his wife Margaret had 12 children
By the time that he passed away from Parkinson’s
Disease in 2008, those 12 children had produced
51 grandchildren and 45 great-grandchildren.
It’s also worth noting that Karcher was
a devout Catholic, attending mass every morning
at the same church where he married his wife
Margaret in 1939, a church named St. Boniface
Catholic Church in California.
Beyond that, the headquarters for CKE Restaurants
had a full-status of St. Francis of Assisi,
and he was also known to recite a prayer before
most company meetings.
With 12 kids and only one named Carl, you
have to wonder how he managed to come up with
11 other non-Carl names.
Those Seductive Carls Jr.
Ads Brought the Wrong Kind of Attention
It was mentioned at the beginning that the
sultry ads of scantily clad women that Carl’s
Jr. was known for in the early-to-mid 2000’s
haven’t aged too well…
It shouldn’t surprise you, though, that even
back in 2005, people weren’t too happy with
the ads that Carl’s Jr. was running.
2005 was the year that their Paris Hilton
commercial went live, in which she washed
a sports car in a revealing swimsuit and ate
a Carl’s Jr. hamburger.
The ad was labeled “Soft-core Porn” by multiple
Parental Advocacy groups, but despite the
backlash, it was an overwhelming success for
Carl’s Jr. as the website they created specifically
for the ad crashed due to the amount of people
visiting it on a daily basis.
The ad was the first of its kind for Carl’s
Jr. and was the beginning of a series of commercials
starring all sorts of famous women from Padma
Lakshmi, ironically of the pinnacle of television
cooking shows like ‘Top Chef’, to Kate Upton,
Kim Kardashian, and Heidi Klum.
Those commercials were also met with outrage
– and free press for Carl’s Jr.
So, clearly, it’s working for them.
Carls Jr.’s Burgers Pair Surprisingly Well
with Fancy Booze
File this under the WUT?
category, as in 2006 Carl’s Jr. decided to
partner with the Palms Casino in Las Vegas
to sell a “combo meal” that was only available
at the Palms.
That combo meal starts out as you’d expect,
with a Carl’s Jr.
Six Dollar Burger and french fries, but then
goes a little crazy.
The drink that comes with the combo isn’t
RC Cola or Tab, but rather a $6,000 dollar
bottle of French Bordeaux.
That’s right, the entire bottle.
The goal of the campaign was to show that
Carl’s Jr. food was actually more high-end
and delicious than any other fast-food joints,
and it must’ve worked for them (at least in
terms of press).
They continued and expanded the idea by partnering
with Wally’s Wine and Spirits to put together
a list of a range of different wine pairings
for their entire menu.
A great example is that their Jalapeno Six-Dollar
Burger apparently goes really well with champagne,
or that their Bacon Swiss Crispy Chicken Sandwich
pairs great with Pinot Noir, or the Charbroiled
Chicken Club Sandwich pairs well with bottles
of wine you can only find strewn across the
bottom of the North Atlantic from after the
Titanic collided with the iceberg.
Okay, that last one was made up but you have
to admit that considering how crazy this list
is getting, you actually thought it was real
for a second there.
Carls Jr. had a Food Truck Before They Were
All the Rage
The company’s inability to come up with
names that didn’t have “CARL” in them (or
to name burgers by anything other than their
price and “BURGER”) notwithstanding, it is
safe to say that both Carl’s Jr. restaurants
as well as its parent company CKE Restaurants,
have been ahead of the curve on a few things
like expanding into fast-food in the 1950’s,
attempting to get into the coffee chain thing
before Starbucks was Starbucks and also being
only the second-most embarrassing piece of
tape that Paris Hilton has recorded.
Carl’s Jr. just never stopped trying new
The best example of this, perhaps, is the
fact that they had a food truck back before
food trucks became the hot thing that they
are today.
You see, Carl’s Jr. opened a food truck named
Star Diner in 2004 and decided to take that
truck all-around the Carl’s Jr stomping grounds,
from California all the way to Utah, to serve
hamburgers, fries and drinks at events like
college football tailgate parties.
The Star Diner was named after the Carl’s
Jr, mascot. and used to be voiced by Norm
MacDonald before he jumped ship to fill-in
as the Colonel from KFC.
The Star Diner may be getting up there in
years, but it’s still in service, bringing
Carl’s Jr. to all sorts of events from fundraisers
to street fairs, or sporting events.
It’s something that keeps that brand out in
front of its target audience, which shows
that this is a company that clearly likes
to think outside of the box, and has done
so since its inception in the early 40’s.
So, there’s really nothing else to say outside
of, “Well done, Carl.
Well done.”
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