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The Story of the First KFC Restaurant

This is a story about how a franchiser and franchise owner developed an extraordinary relationship that helped pioneer a chain that would one day be one of the most global franchise chains on the planet. Here is the story of Kentucky Fried Chicken and the beginning of its name in -- Utah.

KFC's first franchise, Harman's Cafe

In 1939 Colonel Sanders perfected his secret blend of eleven herbs and spices for chicken in his Corbin, Kentucky truck stop. It wasn’t until 1952 when the world first saw “Kentucky Fried Chicken”. The world’s first restaurant featuring Kentucky Fried Chicken was also its first franchise in Utah, Harman Café. The new franchise owner, Pete Harman, decided that the chicken pieces would sell better in Salt Lake City with the more exotic sounding Kentucky Fried Chicken rather than Utah Fried Chicken. This is the story of KFC’s first franchise owner and how he impacted the identity and direction of the chain and the franchise movement.

During a National Restaurant Association conference, Pete Harman sat next to a distinguished looking gentleman, Colonel Harland Sanders, and had a conversation. What followed was a visit to Salt Lake City by Harland Sanders on his way to Australia.

After a long day of sight seeing, the Colonel said, “I’m going to cook dinner for you and Arlene (Pete’s wife)”. He asked Pete to buy four chickens at the local grocery store. Harman Café didn’t have a pressure cooker so one was borrowed. The Colonel began cooking the specialty from his old truck stop. By 10pm the hungry diners were treated to a dish of chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, and Pete sensed he had a winner on his hands.

The Colonel asked him for 5 cents on every chicken he sold.

Colonel Sanders white suit
Col. Sanders' white suit

But what do you call it? Utah Fried Chicken was thought of, but Pete’s sign painter Don Anderson felt that since Colonel Sanders was from Kentucky, why not use Kentucky? “Kentucky means Southern hospitality and good food. So how about naming the cuisine Kentucky Fried Chicken? There was something rare and sensational about featuring a food far from home.

The colonel came back from his trip and let the name stand. Business took off.

“Before we knew it, we were in the chicken business, and people were lining up to get in,” Pete said. “Within a year, we had doubled the size of the place and the annual volume went from $135,000 to $450,000.

The Colonel looked and acted differently and Harman recognized a marketing opportunity. He asked Colonel Sanders to attend parades and make public appearances with him. He felt that the Colonel would stand out more not with his typical black suit but with a white suit, so they went down to a local men’s ware store and Pete Harman bought a white suit for the Colonel. The image stuck.

Pete Harman became the first franchisee for Colonel Harland Sanders’ now Kentucky Fried Chicken. By 1955 the Colonel incorporated his business and went on a road show issuing franchises throughout the country. The original franchises were modeled after Harman’s franchises in Utah. (He was a Master Franchise.).

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