Carl's Jr.

Carl's Jr.
Wholly owned subsidiary
Industry Fast food
Founded July 17, 1941 (July 17, 1941)
Headquarters Carpinteria, California, U.S.
Number of locations
1,385 (April 2015)
Key people
Carl Karcher, Margaret Karcher, Founders
Products Fast food
Parent CKE Restaurants

Carl's Jr. is an American-based fast food restaurant chain operated by CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc., with locations primarily in the Western and Southwestern United States.

Carl Karcher (1917–2008) and his wife Margaret founded the predecessor of Carl's Jr. in 1941, starting as a hot dog cart in Los Angeles. In 1945, the Karchers moved the short distance to Anaheim, California, and opened their first full-service restaurant, Carl's Drive-In Barbeque.  As the restaurant became successful, Carl expanded his business by opening the first two Carl's Jr. restaurants in Anaheim and nearby Brea in 1956. They were so named because they were smaller versions of Carl's original drive-in restaurant. That same year, the chain was officially renamed Carl's Jr. and the fast-food chain took off.[1]

In 2016, Entrepreneur listed Carl's Jr. as #54 on their Top Franchise 500 list, which ranks the overall financial strength, stability, and growth rate for the top 500 franchisees in any field across the United States.[2]

As of March 2016, CKE (the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's) has a total of 3,664 franchised or company-operated restaurants in 44 states and 38 foreign countries and U.S. territories.[3]

Company profile


In 1941, Carl Karcher and his wife, Margaret Karcher (née. Heinz), borrowed $311 on their Plymouth automobile, and added $15 in savings to purchase a hot dog cart on the corner of Florence and Central in Los Angeles. From their newly purchased cart, they sold hot dogs, chili dogs and tamales for a dime, and soda for a nickel. Within a few years, Carl and Margaret owned and operated four hot dog stands in Los Angeles. In 1945, the Karchers moved the short distance to Anaheim, California, and opened their first full-service restaurant, Carl's Drive-In Barbeque.[4] A year later, hamburgers were added to the menu for the first time.


In 1956, Karcher opened the first two Carl's Jr. restaurants – so named because they were a smaller version of Carl's drive-in restaurant — in Anaheim and Brea.[5] By the end of the 1950s, there were four Carl's Jr. restaurants in Orange County, Calif. The restaurants also had a new supervisor, Donald F. Karcher, Carl's younger brother, who would later become the company's president.[6]


By the 1960s, Carl was operating 24 restaurants in Southern California. The company incorporated in 1966 as Carl Karcher Enterprises, Inc., and launched a major expansion of the chain in 1968. The menus were limited for faster service, featuring charbroiled hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and malts.[6]


By 1975, there were more than 100 Carl's Jr. locations in Southern California, and the company expanded into the northern part of the state. Carl's Jr. celebrated its success by building its Anaheim corporate headquarters in 1976. The following year, it became the first QSR chain to offer salad bars in all 200 locations. The first out-of-state restaurant opened in Las Vegas in 1979. By the end of the decade, sales exceeded the $100 million mark.[6]


In 1980, the company hired its 10,000th employee, doubling its employee count in just three years. In 1981, with 300 restaurants in operation, Carl Karcher Enterprises became a publicly held company. In 1984, Carl's Jr. was franchised for the first time. Carl's Jr.'s menu expanded during the decade with the addition of the Western Bacon Cheeseburger, breakfast items, a charbroiled chicken sandwich line and self-service soda fountains. By the end of the decade, sales topped $480 million at 534 restaurants. The company also opened its first international units in the Pacific Rim. In addition, Carl's Jr. was one of the first chains to introduce a debit card payment system, inviting customers to use their ATM cards in the restaurants.[6]

In 1988, Karcher and his family were accused of insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission. They had sold large quantities of stock before the price dropped. Karcher agreed to a settlement with the SEC and paid more than half a million dollars in fines.[7]


Carl's Jr. chains had struggled to gain success in Arizona and Texas, perhaps diminishing hopes of expansion to other states, though later states like Nevada, Oregon and Washington proved successful. During the 1990s, Karcher and the board of directors began clashing, often publicly, over marketing and business practices, including the chain's attempt at dual branding with such chains as The Green Burrito and its new advertising campaigns. Karcher was removed as chairman of the company by its board of directors on October 1, 1993.[8] Soon after, the board of directors took a new approach by cutting the menu, lowering prices, and introducing a new marketing campaign which targeted younger urban and suburban males.[5]

Following Don Karcher's untimely death in 1992, a new management team was installed in 1994, headed by CEO William P. Foley II and President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Thompson. Carl Karcher Enterprises became a wholly owned subsidiary of CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc.[6]

During the mid-1990s, Carl's Jr. unveiled its "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face" campaign, which featured younger people eating Carl's Jr.'s burgers with ketchup and juice dripping from the burger and onto clothes and other areas.[9]

Carl's Jr. in Denton, Texas
Carl's Jr. in Missouri City, Texas

In 1997, CKE Restaurants acquired Hardee's, a restaurant chain with 2,500 locations in the Midwest, South and East Coast regions.


In 2001, Carl's Jr. introduced the Thickburger line with the 1/2 lb. Six Dollar Burger, with sister-chain Hardee's following in 2003.

In 2002, CKE Restaurants acquired Santa Barbara Restaurant Group, the parent company of the Green Burrito brand. Some Carl's Jr. and Hardee's stores are now co-branded with Green Burrito.[6]

In 2003, the company moved its headquarters to Carpinteria, Calif.[6]

In 2005, Carl's Jr. introduced hand-scooped ice cream shakes and malts.

On January 11, 2008, Carl Karcher, the founder of hamburger chain Carl's Jr., died at the age of 90. A spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants said Karcher suffered from Parkinson's disease and was being treated for Parkinson's-related pneumonia when he died at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California. Many Carl's Jr. restaurants flew their flags at half-staff in memory of Karcher.[5]


In the 2010s, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's rolled out Hand-Breaded Chicken Tenders. Carl's Jr. and Hardee's began offering Charbroiled Turkey Burgers in 2011, marking another industry first by becoming the first national fast food chains to offer Turkey Burgers.

In July 2010, CKE Restaurants Holdings, Inc. was acquired by Columbia Lake Acquisition Holdings, Inc., an affiliate of Apollo Management VII, L.P. allowing CKE to continue to grow and succeed as a privately held company under the ownership of Apollo.

In 2011, Carl's Jr. introduced made-from-scratch biscuits.

On November 20, 2013, Roark Capital Group agreed to acquire CKE from Apollo for $1.65–$1.75 billion.

In December 2014, Carl's Jr. introduced the All-Natural Burger, featuring an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids - the first major fast-food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty on the menu. In December 2015, the All-Natural Turkey Burger was introduced – the fast food industry's first.


As of March 2016, CKE (the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's) has a total of 3,664 franchised or company-operated restaurants in 44 states and 38 foreign countries and U.S. territories. This includes restaurants in Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, New Zealand and Russia. The new restaurant CKE (the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's) will be opening soon in United Arab Emirates.

In November 2015, Carl's Jr. opened its 200th restaurant in Mexico. The brand first entered the market in 1991.


CKE conducts an annual Stars for Heroes in-store fundraising campaign at both Carl's Jr. and Hardee's to benefit U.S. military veterans and their families. Since the program's launch in 2011, Stars for Heroes has raised nearly $5 million.

Sign for Carl's Jr and Green Burrito restaurant in Bell, California


In several Western U.S. locations, Carl's Jr. parent CKE has begun operating co-branded restaurants with its Green Burrito group. This same strategy has also been used by Yum! Brands with its KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, A&W Restaurants, and Long John Silver's concepts to expand brands without the additional expense of new buildings and land.[10]


When Carl's Jr. first started rebranding Hardee's locations to the Carl's Jr. livery in 1999, both chains mostly kept separate ads. This changed with the now-infamous Paris Hilton ad (see below), which aired as either for Carl's Jr. or Hardee's, depending on where the ads aired. This would continue with other ads for the next several years, including ads by Kate Upton, Kim Kardashian, Emily Ratajkowski, Sara Jean Underwood,[11][12] Hannah Ferguson, Heidi Klum, Charlotte McKinney, Ronda Rousey, Padma Lakshmi[13] and Hayden Panettiere.[14]

In the years before his death in 2008, Karcher objected to the sexualized nature of the company's advertising, and was reportedly "just heartbroken that a company he founded on Christian principles has taken such an amoral act."[15]

Paris Hilton campaign

In May 2005, Carl's Jr. introduced its "Spicy BBQ Six Dollar Burger" in a television advertisement created by Mendelsohn Zien Advertising, which features Paris Hilton in a provocative swimsuit soaping up a Bentley automobile and crawling all over it before taking a big bite out of her burger and giving her signature phrase, "That's hot."[16]

With the two chains selling many common menu items by 2013, Carl's Jr. began to advertise nationally in conjunction with Hardee's for products sold by both brands.

All Natural campaign

In January 2015, Carl's Jr. released a commercial online featuring model Charlotte McKinney advertising its new All Natural Burger to air regionally during Super Bowl XLIX. The ad features McKinney walking around a farmers' market, implying that she is "all natural" and uses double entendres to suggest that she is naked with strategically placed items in the market, until it reveals McKinney in a bikini eating the All Natural Burger. Critics suggest that the ad "sets feminism back four decades," while others, including McKinney's elderly grandfather, enjoyed the ad.[17][18][19] The ad now features Hardee's cobranding as the All Natural Burger is now offered by Hardee's. As of June 2016, Charlotte McKinney's “Au Natural” ad debut has garnered over 4.5 billion media impressions worldwide{[20] and more than 13 million views on the chains' YouTube channel.[21]

See also


  1. Carpenter, Eric & Geiser, Kelsey (2011-07-15). "Karcher would approve – free hot dogs". The Orange County Register. Retrieved 2016-04-05.
  2. "2016 Top Franchises from Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 List - page 2". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 2016-04-05.
  3. "Carl's Jr.® | Locations". Carl's Jr. Retrieved 2016-04-05.
  4. "The Carl's Jr. Story - Celebrating 70 Years". Carl's Jr.
  5. 1 2 3 Malnic, Eric (2008-01-12). "Carl Karcher, 90; entrepreneur turned hot dog stand into a fast-food empire". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "CKE Restaurants History". CKE Restaurants. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  7. Schlosser, Eric (2001). Fast Food Nation. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-7139-9602-1.
  8. Gomez, James M. (1993-10-02). "Karcher Board Ousts Chairman : Shake-up: Elizabeth Sanders replaces Carl Karcher as battle for control of Anaheim-based Carl's Jr. empire escalates. Founder says he may try to unseat his foes.". Los Angeles Times.
  9. "Paris Hilton to Star in Much-Anticipated Spicy Burger Ads for Carl's Jr.". Carl's Jr. (Press release). 2005-05-13. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  10. "YUM! Brands, Inc.". Hoover's. Retrieved 2007-10-17.
  11. Grabert, Jessica (2012-09-01). "Watch The Uncut Version Of The Burger Commercial Featuring Playmate Sara Underwood". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 2014-07-10.
  12. Haas, Mariah (2014-07-24). "Paris Hilton Returns in a New Carl's Jr. Commercial". People (magazine).
  13. Choi, Candace (2015-05-29). "Carl's Jr. CEO: Not all models know how to eat burgers". KOVR. Associated Press. Retrieved 2015-06-25.
  14. Heller, Corinne (2016-03-26). "Hayden Panettiere Has a Sexy New Role: Carl's Jr. Commercial Star". E! Online. Retrieved 2016-03-31.
  15. Flaccus, Gillian (January 11, 2008). "Carl Karcher, founder of Carl's Jr. restaurant chain, dead at 90". Los Angeles Daily News. Associated Press.
  16. "Carl's Jr. Unapologetic over Spicy Burger commercial". CNNMoney. 2005-06-01. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  17. "Racy Super Bowl ad draws controversy". WTNH. 2015-01-22.
  18. Malec, Brett (2015-01-22). "Carl's Jr.'s New Super Bowl Commercial Featuring a Naked Model May Be Too Hot for TV! Watch Now". E!.
  19. Calderone, Ana (2015-01-29). "Charlotte McKinney's Dad 'Friggin' Loved' Her Carl's Jr. Super Bowl Commercial". People.
  20. "Carl's Jr. and Hardee's Team With Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops III to Create the Ultimate Care Package: First-of-its-kind collaboration includes in-restaurant and in-game integrations, sweepstakes, and nationwide ad featuring the return of Charlotte McKinney". Business Wire (Press release). 2015-10-15.
  21. Carl's Jr. Charlotte McKinney All-Natural "Too Hot For TV" Commercial. Carl's Jr. 2015-01-10 via YouTube.
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