By Judd Hambrick
Corbin, Ky., March 8, 1956: Colonel Harland Sanders sold his 32-room motel and popular 142-seat restaurant here yesterday, after 26 years of serving up his delicious fried chicken to locals and travelers alike because the planned Interstate 75 will bypass Corbin and bypass The Colonel’s livelihood.
Colonel Sanders simply says, “It does not make sense for me to stay in business anymore. The traffic, as I knew it, will be gone when the new road comes in.”
His Sander’s Court amp& Cafe, out on U.S. Highway 25, or the Dixie Highway, has developed a widespread reputation for good food and lots of it and great fried chicken from his own secret recipe.
In 1935, after only five years in business, Sander’s cooking became so famous that Gov. Ruby Laffon made him a Kentucky Colonel in recognition of his contributions to the state’s cuisine, especially his exceptional fried chicken. So, now, folks simply call him “The Colonel.”
In 1939, his current restaurant that, by then, had moved across the street from his original gasoline “Sander’s Servistation” was listed in the Duncan Hines “Adventures in Good Eating” booklet, one of the leading restaurant guides in the U.S.
The 65-year-old restaurateur joked yesterday, that he might retire, “live off my laurels, my fried chicken and my $105 a month Social Security check.”
Life has never been easy for Colonel Sanders. Business was not exactly booming when he first came here in 1930. It was a rough time to make a living.
The stock market crashed in 1929. Unemployment in our area was approaching 30 percent, and there were bread lines and soup kitchens everywhere and no jobs. To make ends meet, the Colonel cooked meals for his family at noon and in the evening at his “Sander’s Servistation,” but if people came along and wanted to eat, he would sell them the family’s dinners and cook again for his family later.
His so-called “restaurant” in the service station was only one rickety table and six chairs in the tiny front room of the station. His kitchen, where he made all these meals, was in the small living quarters in the rear of the station. He, his wife and his kids, who all lived in the service station, were the waiters.
Sanders had been in the service station business before up in Nicholasville, but that business had failed in the early part of 1930 because farmers couldn’t pay for the gas he sold them on credit. So, he came here.
The Nicholasville service station, though, was not the first time Sanders had been wiped out financially. He lost all his money back in the early 1920s with an acetylene gas lighting company he started. Delco came along with a lighting system that was better and wiped him out. He had a Michelin tire sales business, until Michelin closed its plant in New Jersey. That wiped him out again. Early in his life, The Colonel even got a law degree by taking correspondence courses. He practiced law for a while in the Justice of the Peace Court in Little Rock, Ark., but his law career was cut short when he got into a fight with a Justice in the court room. He was wiped out again and back to “square one” in making a living.
Everyone feels the colorful Colonel will not retire. They predict he would “go stir crazy in retirement.” But, whether he will retire or not is not known for sure, but what is known is his tasty fried chicken and his warm personality will be sorely missed by all.
Colonel Sanders, of course, did not retire. He couldn’t. He owed a $165,000 mortgage on his business, and because of the new highway, he could get only $75,000 for the Sander’s Court and Cafe at auction. He barely made enough to pay his taxes and outstanding bills. So, armed only with his “eleven herbs and spices” fried chicken recipe and his knowledge of how to cook chicken in a pressure cooker, the 65-year-old Colonel hit the road, selling franchises for his chicken recipe and cooking technique in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. He called on small restaurant owners, cooking his chicken for them and their employees. If they liked his fried chicken, the owners would agree to pay the Colonel a nickel franchise fee for every Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner they sold. Colonel Sanders was hoping for income of at least $12,000 a year from his franchise effort. Five years later, at age 71, he had about 400 of these “handshake” franchises. Four years after that, at age 75, he had some 600 such franchises.
His Kentucky Fried Chicken business was getting big. So, in 1964, a young Kentucky lawyer, John Y. Brown, and a financier, Jack Massey, offered to buy the Colonel’s business for $2 million. That’s about $13.5 million today. The Colonel sold, became financially independent, and the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain we now know came into being. Today, there are more than 11,000 KFC restaurants in 80 countries, serving 12 million customers per day.
Colonel Sanders served as a spokesman for the restaurant chain he started until his death from leukemia on Dec. 16, 1980, at age 90. At death, he was one of the most noted personalities on earth, insuring that his name and image will last for a long, long time in Southern Memories.