Harland Sanders worked a series of odd jobs throughout his life, including farm hand, streetcar conductor, army private in Cuba, blacksmith's helper, railyard fireman, insurance salesman, tire salesman and service station operator for Standard Oil. In 1930, he started selling his fried chicken at the age of 50, in the front room of a gas station in North Corbin, KY, during the first Great Depression. Sanders Court & Café was so successful that Kentucky Governor Rudy Laffoon declared him a "Kentucky Colonel," a title that means absolutely nothing unless you're in Kentucky - admittedly, my father-in-law, Kentucky Colonel Hal Blankenship, used the laminated card they gave him to get into Travis Air Force Base at one point, but that was the exception, not the rule.
When Interstate 75 bypassed Corbin, Col. Sanders sold his house and business, and started pimping his chicken across the United States - the first restaurant selling the franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken was opened in 1952 in South Salt Lake, Utah. By the 1960s, the chicken was sold in over 600 restaurants across the US and Canada. (One of the longest-running chains selling the franchised chicken were the Kenny Kings diners, with several branches throughout northern Ohio - the last one closed in 2004.)
In 1964, Col. Sanders sold his interest in the company to a group of investors, but stayed on as spokesman. Since then, the company has gone through a number of hands, including RJ Reynolds, the tobacco giant (now RJR-Nabisco) and Pepsi. They're currently a part of Yum! Foods, formerly known as Tricon Global Restaurants, which spun off of PepsiCo. Yum! Foods is the world's largest restaurant company, owning Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Wingstreet, and Long John Silver's restaurants worldwide, and A&W Restaurants everywhere except Canada, where A&W Restaurants have been owned by Unilever since 1972. (In China, Yum! Foods also runs a chain of restaurants called Dong Fang Ji Bai.)
In 1980, a writer named William Poundstone tested KFC's chicken, and the lab report told him that the "11 herbs and spices" consisted of sugar, flour, salt, black pepper and monosodium glutamate (MSG). He determined that the new owners had been skimping on the spices for years to save money. Col. Sanders himself complained about this after he sold the business in 1964, saying:
That friggin'...outfit... They prostituted every goddam thing I had. I had the greatest gravy in the world and those sons of bitches they dragged it out and extended it and watered it down that I'm so goddamn mad.In 1991, they shortened the original name to "KFC," because a more health-conscious public was avoiding fried foods. They re-rebranded themselves as Kentucky Fried Chicken again in 2007 - just a few years after Hardee's made a name for themselves with the thunderously unhealthy Monster Thickburger.
Well, having returned the "Fried" to its name, KFC is now introducing an even less-healthy choice for your dining pleasure. On Monday, they're introducing the Double Down, a breadless "sandwich" consisting of two fried chicken fillets, surrounding two slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese, two slices of bacon, and sauce.
The sad thing is, it really sounds good. In a grotesque and entirely unhealthy way, of course. But still good.
That humming sound in Louisville, KY is the sound of Harland Sanders spinning in his grave.