When you think about the obviously tethered, oft-confusing relationship between Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, think about the Brady Bunch.
It's the story of a lovely burger chain, that had been selling burgers on the West Coast since the 1940s, who met a slightly younger Southern-based burger chain, who was busy expanding into the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. The rest, is fast food history.
Oh, and by "met," I mean "acquired by a larger parent company and combined into one, unified yet segmented brand," obviously.
In the 1940s, Carl Karcher and his wife, Margaret, opened up a hot dog cart in downtown Los Angeles, that would expand to two full-time restaurants in the '50s, more than 100 in the '70s, to nearly 1500 worldwide locations today. It's the classic deep fried American dream: the started focusing on burgers, rode the fast food wave paved by the Golden Arches, and became a West Coast institution.
In 1997, CKE (the parent company developed and driven by Carl's Jr. success) acquired Hardee's, a burger joint leaning heavy into Americana-classics. Wilbur Hardee founded his eponymous franchise in Greenville, North Carolina in 1960. Like Carl Karcher before him, he was able to parlay his initial restaurant into rapid expansion over the next several decades, expanding Hardee's reach deep into the Midwest. At one point in the early 90s, Hardee's even acquired Roy Rogers (the chain, not the dead singer), in hopes to claw their way into a fast food fried chicken market cornered by Colonel Sanders. They didn't, and sold it a few years later.
Nevertheless, it was clear both brands were looking to become bigger than themselves. To cover more ground. To find a way to put their names -- and burgers -- into the minds and stomachs of more Americans.
Joining forces just made too much sense.
"It was like two kids that suddenly moved into the same house together," said Jeff Jenkins, Chief Marketing Officer of C.K.E., "and it all went really well, it was the ideal way to make both brands bigger."
A happy marriage.
And like any happy marriage, they let each other breathe: rather than totally rebrand every Hardee's into Carl's Jr -- or visa versa -- they decided to let each brand continue to exist… at least by name.
"Both brands has been around for a long time, both had dedicated fans and really distinct personalities," Jenkins said. "It really made sense to keep them separated, keep them intact. Entire generations had grown up with Hardee's, and we didn't want to lose that."
Even though both brands managed to keep their names, they began coalescing into one entity. So much so, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.