Today’s post is in remembrance of Carl Karcher, founder of Carl’s Jr. restaurants. Call me weird, stupid or downright crazy for dedicating an entry to a man that, for what it’s worth, “only” created a chain of fast-food joints. But as a southern California native, that smiling and once-freckled star that still welcomes me to each restaurant means a bit more.
Carl’s Jr. was a staple of my childhood. I can recall stepping into many a location and being greeted to gaudy woodgrain booths decked out with dark orange pleather cushions. (Of course, just about every fast-food place looked like that in the 70s.) Back then, Carl’s top-of-the-line burger was the Old Time Star; if you wanted a regular burger you asked for a Happy Star. The fries were of the crinkle-cut variety and ketchup came not in small packets but small plastic buckets that are similar to those that contain today’s McNugget sauce.
Years later, things began to change. The Old Time Star was replaced with the current-day Famous Star, the Happy Star became the name of the kid’s meal (now the Cool Kids Meal), and crinkle-cut fries no longer exist. Even today, I occasionally as for a Happy Star just to mess with the cashier’s mind.
Yet with all the changes progress brings, including purchasing the Hardee’s chain and incorporating some locations with Green Burrito restaurants, one thing remains: charbroiled goodness.
So what exactly makes Carl’s Jr. a cut above those places with clown and king mascots? Man, you know it’s the charbroiled burgers. The others just don’t compare in terms of taste and size. While Carl’s prices have always seemed to be a bit higher than the competition, it’s a difference I’m willing to pay. When you see those flames burning your burger to charbroiled perfection–when that aroma so gently hits your nose–you know you’ve come to the right place.
Variety is another reason I cough up the extra dough. Sure, my beloved crinkle-cut fries have gone their way but Carl’s was one of the first places to offer more than one item as a side for a combo meal: you can get onion rings, fried zucchini or their trademark CrissCut fries if you so desire. Try getting those at McDonald’s, Jack in the Box or Burger King.
Speaking of doing things different, Carl’s was always on the cutting edge. They were one of the first to offer an all-you-can-eat salad bar for those who’d rather fill up on greens and not burgers. They also introduced the self-serve drink bar which has become ubiquitous at every fast-food place and, for the truly adventurous, were the first to offer burgers for breakfast. It was such a hit that they later introduced the Breakfast Burger, an 830-calorie artery clogger that I’d never in a million years choose to eat in the morning. And when you dine in, your order is always brought to you.
Long before that talentless whore Paris Hilton slithered across a wet luxury car and chipped away at a Six Dollar Burger (or Thickburger for you in Hardee’s territory), there were a few other advertising campaigns that stick in my mind.
Now I’ve done some online searching and I can’t find anything about it but I recall one campaign featuring a character called “Mr. Beef.” The dude was muscular and spoke of himself in the third person. Wearing a black shirt that read “Mr. Beef” across the front in white, he would sarcastically read and address “letters” that customers sent to him. The end of each commercial featured a smiling Carl Karcher offering words of wisdom to the letter-writer.
Mr. Beef: And remember, Neil. (Points to camera) Mr. Beef knows where you live.
Karcher: Watch out, Neil!
Their “Go For the Food” campaign has also been etched in my mind. It featured an animated Happy Star, his nephew Nub and once again, Karcher himself and even though it was a tremendous flop for all involved, the verbal exchanges between all characters were pretty funny.
Yet for all the joy Carl’s Jr. has brought me, there are still a few question marks in the bag. First, why did they ditch the pumpkin cheesecake that only came around during the holidays? That had to be the most amazing desert I’d ever had (at least from a fast-food place). It was around for a few years and then *poof* gone and never heard from again. And, for some reason or another, a few locations were equipped with what I often referred to as the “f*cked-up drive thru” in which you had to lean out of your passenger window to give your money and receive your food. Seriously, WTF? Was Mr. Bean the architect or something? Those were retarded and I’m glad they went the way of the dinosaur.
Despite the changes and everything else that came with them, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to thank the man who made his initial investment of $326 a part of my life: Mr. Carl Karcher. My brother had the opportunity to meet him on a few occasions and said he was one cool guy. At said meetings, Karcher gave him personally signed “Personal Guest” cards that were good for a combo meal of the holder’s choice. Since our love for Carl’s runs deep, we both still have our cards and swore that as long as we have them, we’ll never go hungry.
Thanks for the memories, Mr. Karcher. You made that $326 go a long way.