He’s over six foot tall and weighs a healthy 200 pounds; he’s always jolly, with a pure white beard and is famous for spreading joy around the world. No we’re talking about Santa Claus, we’re on about Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC.
Ever wondered what the story behind the man that brings you finger lickin’ good chicken is? Ever pondered, as you tuck into one of his famous buckets, how he got there? Ever questioned why he’s called the Colonel in the first place and, most importantly, have you ever considered his stance on gravy?
Well, the Colonel’s history is something that’s been playing on our mind for a long time, so we’ve done some research and it’s safe to say, the man does not disappoint – he’s got a crackin’ life story. So good that it would be a crime not to share it with you. So buckle up kids, we’re about to take you for a jolly good ride.
Born Harland David Sanders on September 9 1890 in Indiana, our hero left home at age 15 to make his fortune.
Spoiler Alert: he’d have to wait a little while for that dream to kick into action. In the meantime he busied himself working in just about every job possible including: streetcar conductor, soldier, fireman, lawyer, insurance selling, steamboat operator, tyre salesman and finally a service station owner.
The service station is in many ways the beginning of our hero’s fortune. To make a little extra cash, Sanders started feeding weary travellers chicken that he’d cooked for his family for lunch. People enjoyed the treat, in fact, they really liked it. Word spread and it wasn’t long before the Colonel’s service station was renowned throughout Kentucky.
From 1930 (when he bought the pump station) to 1939 Sanders tirelessly worked on perfecting both his recipe and the technique for frying the chicken. The eureka moment came in ‘39 when he realised the pressure cooker was the answer to ensuring the chicken could cook fast enough, be crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and retain the flavour of his now famous (and extremely secret) blend of 11 herbs and spices.
By the mid forties the Colonel was flying high: business was booming and, minus a small misunderstanding that resulted in a gunfight (you can do your own research on that one), life was pretty good. Sanders probably thought he’d be set for life, the words ‘and he lived happily ever after’ ready to be stamped on his biography. But that would be boring.
No, life had a few more adventures for our man. In the 50s a couple on unfortunate incidents meant that his restaurant was first moved and then cut out from the highway altogether, resulting in a significant loss of customers.
By ‘56 Sanders had no choice but to pack up and sell the business. He was 66 by this point. Most of his peers were retiring and our man was, to put it bluntly, penniless.
But he was by no means beaten. Oh no. Not Colonel Sanders. He had two things in abundance: perseverance and (importantly) his sensational spice mix and he knew that as long as he kept them both close to his heart, he would never lose.
The birth of KFC
So what next? Sanders had another great idea: Franchises. He’d actually already started franchising his business and already had a cheeky 8 on the go – each giving him 4 cents for every bit of chicken sold.
All he had to do now was sign up more. And sign up more is exactly what he did. By 1960 he had 200 outlets and by ‘63 the number had gone up to 600. Not bad for a one man show.
That’s when the investors came calling. The Colonel sold his business in 1964 for $2 million (but carried on being both its ambassador and one of the board members for many years) and the rest, as they say, is history. Thanks to their careful attention to quality, the charm of their mascot Sanders and the business acumen of the early investors, the business went from strength to strength until becoming the global household name we know and love today.
Character (including his stance on gravy):
So that’s the story. But what about the man? Sanders was a very particular and charismatic chap.
He didn’t smoke, booze or play cards. But he did swear like a sailor. He was a devout Christian and believed firmly in the virtue of work: he never stopped working up until he passed away in 1980.
But he didn’t do it for money. Money was never a huge deal for Sanders. He believed in honour and virtue. Throughout his life he never cared about increasing the profits of KFC, rather he was militant on ensuring that the quality of the chicken was always perfect. That’s what he truly cared about.
Which brings us onto the gravy problem. He genuinely campaigned to ensure that all stores used his original (and time consuming) recipe. He didn’t care if it cost them more, he truly believed people deserved only the best gravy. And we agree.
He was minor celebrity even before he became the face of KFC. He also starred in over 30 KFC commercials whilst he was alive.
A little bit of trivia: He was named Colonel not because of any great military achievements, but because of his service to the state of Kentucky. The title was an honorary one.
Word of wisdom from the man himself:
‘The chicken I served and which appeared on the menu was seasoned with herbs and spices; it was so superior to ordinary fried chicken, it was so delicious and satisfying, that I did not dare add another ingredient to the recipe for the fear of spoiling it.’
‘For me, money is not everything. As I have said, I was more interested in doing good and helping people.’
‘One has to remember that failure is a stepping stone to something better’
‘I have only ever had two rules: do all you can and do it the best you can. It’s the only way you ever get that feeling of accomplishing something.’
‘The easy way is efficacious and speedy. The hard way arduous and long. But as the clock ticks the easy way becomes harder and the the hard way becomes easier.’
‘I feed truck drivers and millionaires all at the same table.’