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Catering, Event Planning

Burger Joints Of The World, Hardees Burger Chain

5 August 2023

Today’s hero of the burger world is one Wilber Hardee, who launched his namesake restaurant in Greenville, North Carolina on 3rd September 1960. He had viewed the first McDonald’s in the area and been impressed by the money it was taking when he clocked up $168 in an hour. As he exclaimed, at 15c a burger that was some sales. He already operated a successful restaurant called ‘Silo’, but wanted a slice of the burger market.

His first years trading was so successful that he looked into expanding. A meeting with James Gardner and Leonard Rawls led to the opening of the first ‘Company’ store in Rocky Mount.

Early Hardees Restaurant
Early Hardees Restaurant

Change Of Ownership

Wilber didn’t stay in charge of the company for long. Selling his share in Hardees Burger Chain to his other two partners in 1961. There are conflicting accounts of how this arose. Wilber claimed that he lost a controlling share of the business in a poker game to his two partners. Realising he no longer had control he sold the remaining stock.

However in a short book he self published in 2000, Wilber told a different story. The other partners evidently plied him with alcohol, getting him drunk enough to begin signing legal papers without understanding what they were, leading to him signing the rights for franchising away to the other men.

However in a later interview he claimed that he had just been basically stupid, and agreed to set up a company where each partner had equal voting rights, leading to the situation where the other two could always out vote him on decisions.

Rapid Expansion

The chain expanded rapidly, not just with the franchising operation, but they also bought two other chains, Sandy’s and Burger Chef. By 1984 it was the fourth largest chain in America, for a brief period surpassing Wendy’s to become the third largest.

New Ownership

1997 saw the chain being acquired by CKE restaurants. Standing for Carl Karcher Enterprises, owners of the famous Carl’s Jr. chain, this created a group of 3828 stores in 40 states and 10 countries.

The chain however was struggling, problems with the menu, service and quality control meant sales were declining. 2003 saw a new management team planning a turnaround, and a massive sales campaign, coupled with the reinstatement of charbroiling (Wilber Hardees secret weapon) which had been abandoned years earlier. New menu items such as the thick burger saw an upturn in the groups fortunes.

Since then the group has grown to over 5000 locations worldwide.

The current chain pretty much replicates the Carl’s Jr. menu, just with different names. Their flagship offering being the Monster Burger. With two 1/3 lb patties (though knowing Americans they might be better calling them 3/9 lb patties).

Monster Thick Burger
Monster Thick Burger

Wilber Rides Again

Not one to rest on his laurels, Wilber launched another burger chain, called Little Mint. The name referring to the fact that he considered burger joints should be little, and the chain was going to make him a mint. Though not reaching the heights of Hardees Burger Chain over the next seven years he grew the chain to 50 locations.

Little Mint Burger Place
Little Mint Burger Place

When the company went public his shareholding made him worth $2 million dollars’.

Sadly by 1971 competition and other adverse factors meant the chain started to struggle and after falling out with the other board members he eventually sold out for $90,000.

Ever a tryer Wilber opened three ‘Hot Dog Cities’ and a seafood restaurant over the next couple of years. None lasted more than a couple of years, and eventually he was forced to sell his house, eventually filing for bankruptcy.

His low point came when he planned to kill himself by driving his car into a tree. happily his nerve failed and he never carried the plan through.

Beef & Shakes Burger Chain

1978 saw him raising the capital to start ‘Beef & Shakes’ expanding to three outlets, before selling two and rebranding the remaining one Biscuit & Chicken, before eventually settling on the name Biscuit Town.

This was to be his final success, he franchised a couple of stores, before his wife died suddenly. Despondent he sold the chain to his old outfit of Little Mint.

you would have thought that was the end of his story, but he used the money to open three Burger Castle stores. Sadly these failed, and though he opened another five ventures over the next few years, his final one at the age of 75, none of them were successful.

It was reported that Wilber was always bitter about the lack of recognition in the group. Though it carried his name, the company recognised Rawls as its founder. And the second store was considered the start of the brand, not Wilber’s original.

This changed when Carl Karcher took over. He honoured Wilber as the founder of the hardees Burger Chain, naming it’s most prestigious franchising award after him.

Sadly he died in 2008 from a heart attack, just short of his 90th birthday.


The Story Of Hardees

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