The story of how Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder and spokesman of KFC, fought to keep the company’s headquarters in Kentucky is a tale of passion, pride, and chicken.
Sanders, who was born in 1890, started his fried chicken business in 1930 at a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. He developed his original recipe of 11 herbs and spices and cooked the chicken in a pressure fryer. He later expanded his restaurant and motel on the same property, which became a popular stop for travelers.
In 1952, he franchised his chicken concept and traveled across the country to sign up restaurant owners. He wore his iconic white suit and black tie, and grew his trademark goatee and mustache. He became known as Colonel Sanders, a title he received from the Kentucky governor in 1935 for his contributions to the state’s cuisine.
In 1964, Sanders sold the company to a group of investors led by John Y. Brown Jr. and Jack C. Massey for $2 million. He remained involved as a brand ambassador and consultant, and received a percentage of the sales. He also kept his original restaurant and home in Corbin, which he donated to a charity in 1973.
However, Sanders was not happy with some of the changes that the new owners made to the company. He criticized the quality of the food, the management, and the marketing. He even sued the company for misusing his image and violating his contract.
The most dramatic episode occurred in 1971, when KFC moved its headquarters from Kentucky to Tennessee. Sanders was furious and said “This ain’t no goddam Tennessee Fried Chicken, no matter what some slick, silk-suited son-of-a-bitch says”. He said if they didn’t move it back to Kentucky he would go on Johnny Carson’s show and tell everyone how bad the food had become.
His threat worked. Later that year, Massey resigned and Brown took over as the president of KFC. Brown, who would become Kentucky governor in 1979, decided to move the headquarters back to Kentucky. He also reconciled with Sanders and gave him more control over the quality of the food.
Sanders died in 1980 at the age of 90, but his legacy lives on. KFC is now one of the world’s largest fast food chains, with more than 23,000 outlets in over 140 countries. His original restaurant and home in Corbin is still standing and is listed as a historic landmark by the National Register of Historic Places. It attracts thousands of visitors every year who want to see where Sanders started his fried chicken empire.
However, the property is now for sale for $3.5 million. The current owner, Ron Chaney, claims to have a contract with KFC that allows him to use Colonel Sanders’ name and likeness for advertising purposes. He has been running the restaurant as Harland Sanders Cafe & Museum since 1990.
But KFC is not happy about the sale and has threatened legal action against Chaney. The company says the contract expired in 2019 and accuses Chaney of violating its trademarks and misleading customers. KFC says it has no affiliation with the property or its owner and has repeatedly asked him to stop making false claims about its company.
The dispute has not deterred potential buyers who are interested in owning a piece of American history. Christie Wilson, the listing agent for the property, says it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk in Sanders’ footsteps and see where he cooked his famous chicken.
Whether or not the sale goes through, one thing is certain: Colonel Sanders’ passion for his chicken and his home state of Kentucky will never be forgotten.