Carl Karcher, the founder of Carl's Jr., perhaps one of the most well-loved fast-food chains in Southern California, passed away today.
Carl Karcher Enterprises was based in Orange County, and if you grew up in "The OC" as I did, no kid could ever escape the Happy Star. In junior high, the company awarded me with a free lunch for outstanding school attendance.
My favorite menu item was the California Roast Beef, much like a roast beef sandwich you'd get at an Arby's, except with a whole green chile, and monterey jack cheese. They don't make it anymore.
They also used to serve up the crinkle-cut french fries that were more like strips of mashed-potatoes than cut potatoes. I wish they'd bring those back too.
Carl actually started out selling hot dogs. I remember for Carl's Jr's 50th anniversary, they brought back the dogs.
My co-worker and I used to eat lunch at a corporate owned Carl's Jr in Anaheim, where Carl would often visit and meet with the patrons.
After succeeding with his hot-dog stand business in the early 1940s, he opened up his first restaurant in 1945 in Anaheim as "Carl's Drive-In Barbecue". Later on he opened up smaller versions of the restaurant and named them "Carl's Jr" for obvious reasons.
Carl Karcher Enterprises went on to open Carl's Jr. restaurants all throughout the western USA, and then purchased the Hardee's chain in the east. He also tried to get in on the fast-food mexican business with his "Taco De Carlos" in the 1970s, but floundered.
Carl himself was also well loved in Orange County, a man who gave back to his community through his charitable contributions. He was respected as a tireless worker, a believer in himself and in his employees. This was a guy who dropped out of school in the 8th grade, and made it to the top because of hard work and determination. He was devoutly patriotic, leading the Pledge of Allegiance before every board meeting.
The Happy Star logo will be his lasting legacy.
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