Hardee's is an American fast-food restaurant chain, located mostly in the Midwest United States and Southeast regions. It has evolved through several corporate ownerships since being established in the early-mid 1960s. It is currently owned and operated by CKE Restaurants. Along with its sibling restaurant chain Carl's Jr., Hardee's is the #4 U.S. fast-food restaurant burger chain after McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's.
The 1964 menu included: Hamburger 15 cents, Cheeseburger 20 cents, Fries 10 cents, Milk 12 cents, Coffee 10 cents, Coke, Pepsi, Root Beer and Orange, 10 cents and 15 cents, and Milk shake (Chocolate-Strawberry-Vanilla) 20 cents. Strawberry shakes were created from vanilla by addition of a berry syrup which had to be mixed on a spindle. In the late '60's and early '70's Hardee's opened units in West Germany(Hardee's Schnellrast) and Australia in conjunction with Kellogg's (Hartee's)
In the early-1970s, the regular menu featured the Big Twin (a two-patty burger with a unique sauce) and the Big Deluxe (a quarter-pound burger with a tangy mayonnaise). Hardee's purchased Sandy's in 1972, but primarily emphasized franchise growth on the strength of its menu. During the 1970s, when Hardee's saw rapid growth the burgers were "charco-broiled" and were cooked in a process using heated "char-rocks" that caused the fat content dripping off the cooking beef to ignite for a distinctive "flame-broiled" taste. The charco-broiling process was discontinued throughout the '80s and '90s. Charbroiling (minus the rocks) was reintroduced in 2001 with the addition of their Thickburger menu.
Television advertising campaigns in the early 1970s included cartoon characters of a '49er, "Gilbert Giddyup", and his nemesis, a purple-coated villain named "Speedy McGreedy". Radio adverts featured "Mama Cass" Elliot singing the jingle "Hurry on down to Hardee's, where the burgers are charco broiled!" The ads were pulled after her death.
Hardee's has had numerous specialties as part of their menu. For a time they were a competitor to Arby's for roast beef sandwiches. Later Hardees entered into competition with fried chicken on its menu. Hardee's was purchased by Imasco in 1981. They also own Imperial Tobacco(Canada),People's Drugs(USA),Shoppers's Drug Mart(Canada) and The Tinder Box.
Hardee's was affected by the buy-out phenomena of the 1980s. A new management team in the early 1980s seeking to cut costs immediately changed the signature burger recipe. When sales declined, the chain eliminated altogether the flagship menu items of the Big Twin and the Big Deluxe. The Hardee's of the 1980s and '90s was frequently criticized for its very low hamburger quality. The chain had over 4000 units by 1992. The chain leveraged itself to acquire Burger Chef in 1982 and Roy Rogers in 1990. Several Hardee's locations closed in the 1990s, however, as the chain faltered.
For a short time in the early 1990s, Hardee's outlets sold the popular fried chicken recipe acquired from Roy Rogers, which Hardee's claimed in their advertisements beat KFC in a taste test, 63 to 37. However, they had only compared it to KFC's Original Recipe, thus giving KFC a clever counter-advertisement in which they claim that their Extra Tasty Crispy chicken beat Hardee's chicken. Hardee's locations in southeastern North Carolina still serve chicken today, as well as the traditional sides such as mashed potatoes & gravy, cole slaw, and biscuits. At one point the chain expanded to over 4,000 locations in the United States, but the chain has contracted to less than 2,000 in recent years. They also owned Rax Roast Beef for a limited time.
An Experimental Hardee's existed in Rocky Mount, North Carolina until 2005. This Hardee's is where menu items tried out to test market appeal, as well as restaurant designs and amenities. Menu items featured constantly changed, featuring such things as buffets, pizza, philly cheesesteaks, unique ice cream flavors, and pasta. The interior featured a lounge area with sofas and chairs, a television, and children's toys. On the outside there was a playground similar to those at McDonald's restaurants.
CKE Restaurants has been dual branding some Hardee's locations with Red Burrito, similar to its Green Burrito/Carl's Jr. dual brand concept. This is a similar strategy used by Yum! Brands with its KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Long John Silvers concepts to help expand brands without the additional expense of new buildings and land.
Hardee's has found a niche market in smaller towns that may lack franchises of the other major hamburger chains. Hardee's closed its restaurants in Hong Kong on December 27, 2006 due to problems with franchising rights.
On March 12, 2007 the first ever franchised Hardee's restaurant (located in Rocky Mount, North Carolina) was demolished to make room for a veterans memorial park named after Jack Laughery, a former Hardee's executive and US army veteran.
CKE Restaurants has been announced that Hardee's will expand up to about 37 Eastern U.S. states, which marks the chain to operate over 4,000 restaurants by the end of 2008.
Hardee's expansion into Canada (under the Hardee's name) has been prevented by a trademark dispute with Canada's Harvey's burger chain. Hardee's is, however, free to open stores in Canada under the Carl's Jr. name.
In 2005, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's aired a controversial commercial featuring hotel heiress Paris Hilton washing a Bentley in a skimpy bikini while striking poses and eating a burger in a sensuous manner. Carl's Jr. aired the ad first, and Hardee's soon followed.
Other popular licenses were garnered as well. Marvel Comics characters would be featured in the 1990 Marvel Super Hero Vehicles collection. And in the summer of 2000, DC Comics' DC Super Heroes finally found a spot in the Hardee's toy scene.
Possibly the most well known Hardee's premiums, however, would be the Dancin' Singin' California Raisins. Several collections of the nonposeable figures were produced in 1987, 1988, 1991, and once again in 2001. Traditionally, they would be available with the purchase of Hardee's cinnamon raisin biscuits.
Hardee's also marketed special Super Bowl celebratory pins in the early 1990s.
The marketing of this burger may represent a neo-comfort food movement against alarms raised by nutritionists about an obesity epidemic. In an interview on CNBC, Hardee's CEO Andrew Puzder said the sandwich was "not a burger for tree huggers." The burger was also parodied on an episode of the Late Show with David Letterman when the "CEO of Hardee's" came out to talk about the then-new Monster Thickburger to David Letterman, only to die from a heart attack after just taking one bite. Nevertheless, sales for the 2,067-restaurant chain have risen steadily since the introduction of the Thickburger family in 2003, with same-store sales up 7.8% annually.
The Monster Thickburger is based on the Monster Burger, which had similar ingredients but was the size of a double quarter pounder instead of two-thirds of a pound.
The core of the Hardee's breakfast menu are its biscuit sandwiches, reflecting the southern origins of this chain. The meats on these biscuit sandwiches vary regionally. Most Hardee's biscuits have traditional fare such as a sausage, bacon, or ham. More unusual biscuits with chicken fried steak, pork chop, and smoked sausage can be found in the southeast, but are more difficult to find in Hardee's outside this region. Hardee's also features buscuits and gravy on its breakfast menu.
In 2002, CKE Restaurants removed several of the breakfast items from the menu, including the popular cinnamon raisin biscuit, in an attempt to focus Hardee's on its new burger menu like its sister restaurant, Carl's Jr. Customers were upset by this, and the restaurant experienced less business as its eastern customers still hadn't fully conformed to the burger menu. A year later, the removed items were returned to the menu, and Hardee's advertised the re-additions on regional television.
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