From One Shop To Multinational Company: The Story Of KFC

There are plenty of stories floating around the internet about the founder of KFC and his inspiring story of rags to riches, but how much is actually true? Let’s take a look at the facts behind the now instantly recognisable brand, and the man who started it all.


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Harland Sanders, the man who would later be known as ‘The Colonel’, was born in 1890 in Indiana. When his father died suddenly when Harland was just five years old, he was left to care for his two younger siblings while his mother worked at a factory all day. There was a big silver lining here though — the young Harland became a bit of a whiz in the kitchen and was said to have been totally competent in the kitchen from as young as seven.


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After leaving school at just 13 years old (he later said that ‘algebra drove [him] off’, Harland worked in various different jobs without any major success. It wasn’t until he turned 40 that his luck began to change — he took control of a Shell fuel station in Kentucky, where he started cooking up fried chicken (as well as other foods like ham and steak), for people passing through the town.


Image source: Wikipedia

Following the initial success of the filling station, he was able to buy a bigger one nearby 4 years later, where he expanded his fried chicken business and eventually ended up with a restaurant with 142 seats by 1937. However, Harland had a problem — he felt that 35 minutes was too long for people to wait for their chicken, but he hated the idea of deep frying it. The solution? He bought a newly-available pressure cooker and adapted it into a pressure fryer.


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It was in 1940 that Sanders put together his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices used to season his chicken. It was around this time that the Colonel nickname stuck, and as a result he began to dress like one, with his iconic white suit and string tie. In 1955 Sanders sold his two filling stations and began selling his chicken recipe to other restaurants, charging them 5 cents per chicken. This franchise operation turned out to be a very profitable model — by 1963 there were 600 KFC restaurants, making it the biggest fast food chain in the US.


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One year later, 74 year old Sanders decided it was time to wind down, and therefore sold the company for $2 million. The agreement stated that he would also be given a lifetime salary and would get the final say on quality control. Sanders died in 1980, by which time there were around 6000 KFC restaurants in 48 countries worldwide.

A KFC restaurant in a shopping mall. KFC, McDonalds,

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PepsiCo bought the company in 1986 for a whopping $850 million (around $2 billion today), and have owned it ever since. Today, there are over 18,500 KFC outlets worldwide, each making a profit of around $1.2 million a year. They are one of the most popular fast-food chains in the world — they even brought out a chicken-flavoured nail varnish earlier this year — now that’s finger lickin’ good!