Being from the deep South, I’ve always been familiar with Hardee’s. They are a fast-food restaurant located pretty much everywhere in the South, and in many, many small southern towns, they are literally the only restaurant in town. There is even a Hardeeville in South Carolina, the supposed birthplace of Hardee’s restaurants.
Then we visited and subsequently moved to Idaho. No Hardee’s in sight, but we kept seeing these restaurants called Carl’s Jr. The sign looked strikingly similiar right down to the font of the sign and a smiling star that has become a trademark of Hardee’s in recent years. I also looked at the menu. It was also about the same if not exactly the same. So what’s the deal?
Well, as it turned out, Carl’s Jr. is much, much older than Hardee’s. Carl’s Jr. was founded by Carl and Margarent Karcher way back in 1941 and was originally nothing more than a hotdog cart. After the hotdog cart gig, they opened a few drive-in restaurants, Carl’s Drive-in Barbeque, and in 1956, they opened the first two Carl’s Jr., originally called “Jr.” because it was a smaller version of their drive-in restaurant.
Hardees, on the other hand, was established in 1961 when Wilbur Hardee opened their first store in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina. Both restaurants, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. lived independent existances throughout the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, 80’s, and most of the ‘90’s with Carl’s Jr. firmly established in the western and southwestern United States, while Hardees was exclusively on the East Coast and primarily in the south.
Then, Hardee’s began to flounder and started closing some of their stores. Carl’s Jr. to the rescue! In 1997, the parent company of Carl’s Jr., CKE restaurants, bought out Hardee’s. Due to the popularity of Hardee’s as well as the Hardee’s name recognition in the deep south, they didn’t change the name, but over a ten year period, the two restaurants basically merged in to one, slowly adopting the same menu, most of the items coming from the Carl’s Jr., the same type font on their signs, and Hardee’s also acquired the Carl’s Jr. “happy smile” logo. Hence, now, despite the different names, they are essentially the same restaurant. They are, however, run from different headquarters, Carl’s Jr.’s headquarters being located in California while Hardee’s is located in Missouri.
Today, there are approximately 1,905 Hardee’s restaurants and 1,224 Hardee’s restaurants with both restaurants being represented in 42 states as well as a number of other countries overseas. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s combined form the 5th largest fast-food chain in the country.