Hardee’s Food Systems Inc. is an American fast-food restaurant chain operated by CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc. (“CKE”) with locations primarily in the Southern and Midwestern United States. The company has evolved through several corporate ownerships since its establishment in 1960 in North Carolina. However, in case you’re wondering, here are 20 things that you might not know about Hardees:
1. Hardees started in North Carolina
The very first Hardees restaurant was opened in Greenville, North Carolina in 1960. The founder of the original Hardees was Wilber Hardee. The chain became an immediate success and the lines to get in to order from the menu were so long that people couldn’t even find a place to park. They offered a drive through window for fast service and they did so well that the restaurant was able to open up three more locations in North Carolina right away.
2. Biscuits became their signature menu item
In the 1970s, Hardees introduces their specialty biscuits which were made from scratch and served fresh. Their biscuits became a big hit with customers and they are a hallmark of the Hardees brand that are still popular to this day. Their “made from scratch” biscuits are a trademarked menu item.
3. The 1970s was a year of tremendous growth for Hardees
Within just fifteen years of opening the doors of the first Hardees restaurant, the business achieved a high mark of success. They opened their 1,000th location and this was reason for great celebration. There are few fast-food chains that can boast this rapid growth in this amount of time. The era of the 1970s was a very successful one in the history of the company and they even opened an international restaurant that was located in Heidelberg, Germany.
4. The California Raisins gave them a boost
Here is a fun fact about Hardees that many people don’t remember. Hardees began serving their Cinnamon ‘N’ Raisin biscuits in the 1980s. This was another of their most popular menu items but it was also a part of one of their most successful advertising campaigns. The California Raisins were a group of singing raisins that became a part of pop culture during the ’80s and they were a part of the endorsement for pitching the new raisin biscuits to the public and the ad campaign was a big success.
5. Hardees acquired Burger Chef
In the 1980s Hardees was still enjoying a tremendous level of success. They were doing so well that they purchased another fast-food chain called Burger Chef. At the time of the acquisition there were 650 Burger Chef restaurants in operation and these were absorbed into Hardees. Also, during the 1980 era, Hardees reached another huge milestone when they opened their 2,000th restaurant location. They had doubled in size in a decade.
6. They added a tip seller in the 1990s
During the 1990s, Hardees added to their menu with their new trademarked Frisco Burger. This was a hamburger that featured crispy bacon, melted cheese and a slice of tomato, served on sourdough toast. It was a big hit with Hardees patrons who were still flocking to the locations in such numbers that there were times when it was difficult to find a place to park for those who wanted to go inside and eat at the restaurant. This is one of the reasons why their drive through window service was so important. It wasn’t just a passing fad that was just novel because it was new. Hardees maintained an excellent reputation and enjoyed high numbers of customers for decades.
7. Hardees was bought out by a larger company
In the 1990s, the Hardees fast food chain was purchased by a large California based restaurant company called CKE Restaurants, Inc. They purchased the company from Imasco, the Canadian company that was the owner at the time. Hardees became the most famous subsidiary company that CKE Restaurants, Inc. owned.
8. Hardees Thickburgers weren’t offered until the ’90s
Hardees is known for their innovation in hamburgers and during the era of the 1990s, they launched the new products that they called “Thickburgers.” These menu items had a big appeal to the public because they were expertly marketed by pointing out that they were made with 100 percent Black Angus beef and all of the ingredients used to top the burgers were high quality. The very appearance of the burgers on commercials were mouth watering. This was a period in the history of Hardees marketing that was known as the Revolution.
9. One of Hardees new burgers made national headlines
Here is another fun fact that we discovered when we were researching the history and archives of Hardees. They actually had a hamburger that made national headlines. It was one of the menu options in their line of Thickburgers called the Monster Thickburger. It’s a registered menu item that was called “audacity on a bun.” This was a heck of a reference that gave the burger some really good press and made Hardees look like the master of burger innovation.
10. Hardees tested its message with a fake restaurant ad campaign
We found this interesting fact about Hardees and it’s something that none of us had ever heard about before. In the early 2000s, Hardees ran a fake restaurant ad campaign where they had a hidden camera placed to find out what customers really though about their Thickburgers. It was truly amazing that some of the customers who came in to order were actually winning to pay up to $14 a piece for their world famous Thickburger.
11. They actually cut down their menu offerings at one point
Hardees went through a big change in the early 2000s. They called it the Revolution of 2003. Hardees was big on hosting revolutions throughout their history. They were best known for their favorite biscuits, but this changed when they pared down their menu and shifted the focus of their food offerings from biscuits to burgers. The Thickburger was their new focal point and they offered it in three different sizes. Customers could order this phenomenal burger in a one third pound, one half pound or two third pound size. The fast-food chain became even more popular because of making these changes and it rose to become a leader in the fast food industry in high quality menu items and in taste that their customers highly approved of.
12. There are six states with no Hardees
Even though Hardees is a fast-food giant that is highly in demand, there are six states that do not have a Hardees location within their borders. The states that do not have a Hardees for their residents include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and New York. So if you’re a resident of one of these states and you haven’t heard of Hardees this is why. In an interesting and related vein, there is also no Carl’s Jr. in any of these states either.
13. Hardees is generous in supporting charities
Hardees and Carl’s Jr. co-sponsored a fundraising campaign that was called the Stars for Heroes Charity. This was a 2011 event that was a part of their annual fund-raising campaign that was an in-store event. The proceeds from the fundraiser are given to charities that are focused upon military families and there are about a dozen of them that Hardees has designated for receiving the funds. Together with their staff, the company and their patrons they raised $1.5 million in 2016 alone and the total amount that they’ve raised since starting this effort is a whopping $6.5 million.
14. They’re a lot like Carl’s Jr.
There are a lot of similarities between Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurant chain. Each of them are ranked as being among the top performers in the nation. They even look the same and there are a lot of customers who believe that they are a part of the same chain but they’re different. The design of their physical properties are exactly the same, their menus are similar and they are both located in the same states. Is this all a coincidence?
15. The Hardees/Carl’s Jr. mystery has been solved
For all of you who are wondering what the connection between Hardees and Carl’s Jr. Let us begin by establishing the fact that they are two totally separate fast food chains. Their mutual connection is that they are both owned by CKE Restaurants, Inc. The company has owned them both since 1997. Wilbur Hardee established the Hardees chain in 1960 and Carl’s Jr. started out in 1941 as a hot dog cart that was founded by Carl Karcher, a 24 year old man who drove a bread truck. He and his wife Margaret were successful in their venture and opened their barbecue style restaurant up under the name of Carl’s Drive-In Barbeque. The couple then expanded their restaurant into five full-service operations. They opened two smaller spin off restaurants that focused on serving hamburgers in Brea and Anaheim, California and in 1956, and Carl’s Jr. was officially in business. They were each founded by two different people in different parts of the country and they really had no affiliation with one another until they were united under the same parent company.
16. Both Carl’s and Hardees became successful on their own
Prior to their acquisition by CKE Restaurants, Inc., both of these famous restaurant chains had achieved success on their own. This is why they were such attractive acquisitions. Hardees had become a staple fast-food provider in the Midwest and in the Southern states and Carl’s Jr. had done the same in the Western states. Hardy’s had risen to the status of the fourth largest fast-food chain of restaurants in the 1990 era. There were over 2,500 locations open. They had an excellent marketing strategy which included opening restaurants in smaller towns where their largest competitors didn’t have a presence. We’re talking about Burger King and McDonald’s. This strategy paid off very well for the company. On an interesting note about CKE Restaurants, the CKE stands for Carl Karcher Enterprises, the founder of Carl’s Jr. So with these facts in place we can more easily understand why there are so many similarities between the two restaurant chains. CKE made their acquisition of Hardees in 1997 and they paid $327 million in the deal.
17. There are only two states that have Carl’s Jr and Hardees both
Here’s another fun fact that we learned about Hardees and Carl’s Jr. There are only two states that have both restaurants within their borders. We ascribe this to the careful marketing strategies of CKE Restaurants. The states that have Hardees and Carl’s Jr. both are Wyoming and Oklahoma.
18. Wilber Hardee lost the restaurant chain gambling
This is one of the saddest facts that we discovered about the Hardee restaurant chain. The founder of the company was good at business and he had built a lucrative company, but he wouldn’t own it for long. He also had a fondness for gambling. He was in his second very successful year of business with a second Hardees location open and doing very well. It was in 1961 that he entered a poker game and lost his controlling share of the company to Leonard Rawls and James Carson Gardner, two entrepreneurs who had assisted him in the expansion of the business. After losing control of Hardee’s he made the decision to sell the shares that he had left. In 1963, just two short years later, Hardees went public. Gardner left the business in 1966 when he won an election to the US House of Representatives.
19. The chain offered Roast Beef Sandwiches and Fried Chicken briefly
Hardees was known for making innovative changes throughout their history. During the 1990s they added Roast Beef Sandwiches and Fried Chicken to their menu. The recipes that they used for these items were very unique because Hardees had acquired the recipes from the Roy Rogers chain. Imasco was the Canadian company that purchased Hardees in 1981. Imasco was the owner of the Roy Rogers fast-food chain and this was one of the reasons why they experimented with the two new menu items. Although you can’t find them at all of the locations, they are still offered by a few of them.
20. There are no Hardees in Canada
Even though the Canadian company Imasco owned Hardees for a period of time, Hardees restaurants are not allowed to exist in the country. This is because there is already a Canadian fast-food chain that is called Harvey’s in business there. Canadians believe that the similarity in the names would be an issue so all of the restaurants in the chain that are opened in Canada must be called Carl’s Jr.