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|Carl's Drive-In Barbecue (1941–1956)|
|Founded||July 17, 1941|
|Founders||Carl Karcher, Margaret Karcher|
|Headquarters||Carpinteria, California, U.S.|
Number of locations
|1,385 (April 2015)|
Carl Karcher (1917–2008) and his wife Margaret (1915–2006) founded the predecessor of Carl's Jr. in 1941, starting as a hot-dog cart in Los Angeles. In 1945, the Karchers moved to Anaheim, California, and opened their first full-service restaurant, Carl's Drive-In Barbecue. As the restaurant became successful, Carl expanded his business by opening the first two Carl's Jr. restaurants in Anaheim and nearby Brea in 1956. They were so named because they were smaller versions of Carl's original drive-in restaurant. That same year, the chain was officially renamed Carl's Jr. and the fast-food chain took off.
In 2016, Entrepreneur listed Carl's Jr. as #54 on their Top Franchise 500 list, which ranks the overall financial strength, stability, and growth rate for the top 500 franchisees in any field across the United States.
In 1941, Carl Karcher and his wife, Margaret Karcher (née. Heinz), borrowed $311 on their Plymouth automobile and added $15 in savings to purchase a hot dog cart on the corner of Florence and Central in Los Angeles. From their newly purchased cart, they sold hot dogs, chili dogs, and tamales for a dime, and soda for a nickel. Within a few years, Carl and Margaret owned and operated four hot dog stands in Los Angeles. In 1945, the Karchers moved the short distance to Anaheim, California, and opened their first full-service restaurant, Carl's Drive-In Barbecue at 1108 N. Palm St. (now Harbor). A year later, hamburgers were added to the menu for the first time.
In 1956, Karcher opened the first two Carl's Jr. restaurants – so named because they were a smaller version of Carl's Drive-In Barbecue restaurant — in Anaheim and Brea. The first local Carl’s Jr. was built in 1956 on the former Janss Street next to St. Boniface Catholic Church about half a block away from Anaheim High School. That former Carl’s Jr. is now the church’s Bethany Hall. The current flagship Carl’s Jr. is located at 1200 N. Harbor Blvd. By the end of the 1950s, there were four Carl's Jr. restaurants in Orange County, Calif. The restaurants also had a new supervisor, Donald F. Karcher, Carl's younger brother, who would later become the company's president.
By the 1960s, Carl was operating 24 restaurants in Southern California. The company incorporated in 1966 as Carl Karcher Enterprises, Inc., and launched a major expansion of the chain in 1968. The menus were limited for faster service, featuring charbroiled hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and malts.
By 1975, there were more than 100 Carl's Jr. locations in Southern California, and the company expanded into the northern part of the state. Carl's Jr. celebrated its success by building its Anaheim corporate headquarters in 1976. The following year, it became the first QSR chain to offer salad bars in all 200 locations. The first out-of-state restaurant opened in Las Vegas in 1979. By the end of the decade, sales exceeded the $100 million mark.
In 1980, the company hired its 10,000th employee, doubling its employee count in just three years. In 1981, with 300 restaurants in operation, Carl Karcher Enterprises became a publicly held company. In 1984, Carl's Jr. was franchised for the first time. Carl's Jr.'s menu expanded during the decade with the addition of the Western Bacon Cheeseburger, breakfast items, a charbroiled chicken sandwich line and self-service soda fountains. By the end of the decade, sales topped $480 million at 534 restaurants. The company also opened its first international units in the Pacific Rim. In addition, Carl's Jr. was one of the first chains to introduce a debit card payment system, inviting customers to use their ATM cards in the restaurants.
In 1988, Karcher and his family were accused of insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission. They had sold large quantities of stock before the price dropped. Karcher agreed to a settlement with the SEC and paid more than half a million dollars in fines.
Carl's Jr. chains had struggled to gain success in Arizona and Texas, perhaps diminishing hopes of expansion to other states, though later states like Nevada, Oregon and Washington proved successful. During the 1990s, Karcher and the board of directors began clashing, often publicly, over marketing and business practices, including the chain's attempt at dual branding with such chains as The Green Burrito and its new advertising campaigns. Karcher was removed as chairman of the company by its board of directors on October 1, 1993. Soon after, the board of directors took a new approach by cutting the menu, lowering prices, and introducing a new marketing campaign which targeted younger urban and suburban males.
Following Don Karcher's untimely death in 1992, a new management team was installed in 1994, headed by CEO William P. Foley II and President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Thompson. Carl Karcher Enterprises became a wholly owned subsidiary of CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc.
During the mid-1990s, Carl's Jr. unveiled its "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face" campaign, which featured younger people eating Carl's Jr.'s burgers with ketchup and juice dripping from the burger and onto clothes and other areas.
In 2001, Carl's Jr. introduced the Thickburger line with the 1/2 lb. Six Dollar Burger, with sister chain Hardee's following in 2003.
In 2002, CKE Restaurants acquired Santa Barbara Restaurant Group, the parent company of the Green Burrito brand. Some Carl's Jr. stores are now co-branded with Green Burrito, as are some Hardee's stores.
In 2005, Carl's Jr. introduced hand-scooped ice cream shakes and malts.
On January 11, 2008, Carl Karcher, the founder of hamburger chain Carl's Jr., died at the age of 90. A spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants said Karcher suffered from Parkinson's disease and was being treated for Parkinson's-related pneumonia when he died at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California. Many Carl's Jr. restaurants flew their flags at half-staff in memory of Karcher.
In the 2010s, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's rolled out Hand-Breaded Chicken Tenders. Carl's Jr. and Hardee's began offering Charbroiled Turkey Burgers in 2011, marking another industry first by becoming the first national fast food chains to offer Turkey Burgers.
In July 2010, CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc. was acquired by Columbia Lake Acquisition Holdings, Inc., an affiliate of Apollo Management VII, L.P. allowing CKE to continue to grow and succeed as a privately held company under the ownership of Apollo.
In 2011, Carl's Jr. introduced made-from-scratch biscuits. On November 20, 2013, Roark Capital Group agreed to acquire CKE from Apollo for $1.65–$1.75 billion.
In December 2014, Carl's Jr. introduced the All-Natural Burger, featuring an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics, or steroids – the first major fast-food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty on the menu. In December 2015, the All-Natural Turkey Burger was introduced – the fast food industry's first.
In September 2017, CKE decided to re-brand it's Poughkeepsie, NY and Middletown, NY Hardee's locations into Carl's Jr. in order to focus on lunch and dinner options for a New England consumer base.
In November 2015, Carl's Jr. opened its 200th restaurant in Mexico. The brand first entered the market in 1991.
In August 2016, Carl's Jr. opened its first location in India at Saket's Select Citywalk Mall in Delhi.
As of March 2016, CKE (the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's) has a total of 3,665 franchised or company-operated restaurants in 44 states and 39 foreign countries and U.S. territories. This includes restaurants in Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, Colombia, Guatemala,Vietnam, Honduras, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, New Zealand, Russia, and Belarus.
CKE conducts an annual Stars for Heroes in-store fundraising campaign at both Carl's Jr. and Hardee's to benefit U.S. military veterans and their families. Since the program's launch in 2011, Stars for Heroes has raised nearly $5 million.
In several Western U.S. locations, Carl's Jr. parent CKE has begun operating co-branded restaurants with its Green Burrito group. This same strategy has also been used by Yum! Brands with its KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, A&W Restaurants, and Long John Silver's concepts to expand brands without the additional expense of new buildings and land.
When Carl's Jr. first started rebranding Hardee's locations into the Carl's Jr. name, both chains mostly kept separate ads. This changed with the now-infamous Paris Hilton ad (see below), which aired as either for Carl's Jr. or Hardee's, depending on where the ads aired. This would continue with other ads for the next several years, including ads by Kate Upton, Kim Kardashian, Emily Ratajkowski, Sara Jean Underwood, Hannah Ferguson, Heidi Klum, Charlotte McKinney, Ronda Rousey, Padma Lakshmi, and Hayden Panettiere.
In 2005, Carl's Jr. launched a marketing campaign featuring bikini-clad models posing suggestively to capture the "hungry, young guy" demographic. The advertisements were criticized for objectifying women and prompted calls to boycott Carl's Jr. Company CEO Andrew Puzder defended the campaign in Entrepreneur magazine, saying, "I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it's very American."
In the years before his death in 2008, Karcher objected to the sexualized nature of the company's advertising, and was reported "just heartbroken that a company he founded on Christian principles has taken such an amoral act."
Paris Hilton campaign
In May 2005, Carl's Jr. introduced its "Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger" in a television advertisement created by Mendelsohn Zien Advertising, which features Paris Hilton in a provocative swimsuit soaping up a Bentley automobile and crawling all over it before taking a big bite out of her burger and giving her signature phrase, "That's hot."
With the two chains selling many common menu items by 2013, Carl's Jr. began to advertise nationally in conjunction with Hardee's for products sold by both brands.
All Natural campaign
In January 2015, Carl's Jr. released a commercial online featuring model Charlotte McKinney advertising its new All Natural Burger to air regionally during Super Bowl XLIX. The ad features McKinney walking around a farmers' market, implying that she is "all natural" and uses double entendres to suggest that she is naked with strategically placed items in the market until it reveals McKinney in a bikini eating the All Natural Burger. Critics suggest that the ad "sets feminism back four decades," while others, including McKinney's elderly grandfather, enjoyed the ad. The ad now features Hardee's co-branding as the All Natural Burger is now offered by Hardee's. As of June 2016, Charlotte McKinney's “Au Natural” ad debut has garnered over 4.5 billion media impressions worldwide and more than 13 million views on the chains' YouTube channel.
Carl Hardee Sr. campaign
In March 2017, Carl's Jr. released a commercial featuring a white-bearded character named Carl Hardee Sr. (played by Charles Esten) who had come back into the office (much to the delight of the employees) to find his son Carl Jr. (Drew Tarver) who was focusing on sex appeal over its food. The commercial marked a turning point in CKE's advertising, as the company wants to move away from its provocative ads and focus more on food and as a competitor to Five Guys, Steak 'n Shake, and In-N-Out Burger. "Carl Hardee Sr." is also expected to become the new company spokesperson.
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- Heller, Corinne (2016-03-26). "Hayden Panettiere Has a Sexy New Role: Carl's Jr. Commercial Star". E! Online. Retrieved 2016-03-31.
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- Taylor, Kate (May 20, 2015). "The CEO of Carl's Jr. Doesn't Care If You're Offended by the Chain's Sexy Ads". Entrepreneur.
- Flaccus, Gillian (January 11, 2008). "Carl Karcher, founder of Carl's Jr. restaurant chain, dead at 90". Los Angeles Daily News. Associated Press.
- "Carl's Jr. Unapologetic over Spicy Burger commercial". CNNMoney. 2005-06-01. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
- Berman, Margo; Robyn Blakeman (2009). "Where Campaigns and Brands Go Off Course". The Brains Behind Great Ad Campaigns. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-7425-5550-1. LCCN 2008055414. Retrieved January 16, 2017 – via Google Books.
- "Racy Super Bowl ad draws controversy". WTNH. 2015-01-22.
- Malec, Brett (2015-01-22). "Carl's Jr.'s New Super Bowl Commercial Featuring a Naked Model May Be Too Hot for TV! Watch Now". E!.
- Calderone, Ana (2015-01-29). "Charlotte McKinney's Dad 'Friggin' Loved' Her Carl's Jr. Super Bowl Commercial". People.
- "Carl's Jr. and Hardee's Team With Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops III to Create the Ultimate Care Package: First-of-its-kind collaboration includes in-restaurant and in-game integrations, sweepstakes, and nationwide ad featuring the return of Charlotte McKinney". Business Wire (Press release). 2015-10-15.
- Carl's Jr. Charlotte McKinney All-Natural "Too Hot For TV" Commercial. Carl's Jr. 2015-01-10 – via YouTube.
- Jones, Charisse; Meyer, Zlati (March 29, 2017). "Sexy Burger Girls? No Longer at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's". USA Today. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
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