12 Finger-Lickin' Facts About KFC

For one thing, the Colonel is a real guy, and he and his Kentucky Fried Chicken have a long, illustrious history.

1. THE COLONEL HAD A TOUGH CHILDHOOD, BUT IT’S HOW HE LEARNED TO COOK.

Born in 1890, Harland Sanders was just 6 years old when his father died and he became responsible for looking after his younger siblings when his mother was forced to leave for days at a time to work in a canning factory. Young Sanders took over cooking in the Henryville, Ind. household—at least for the next few years. When he was 12, his mother married a man who disliked children, and Harland left to find a job on a farm. He kept up with schooling until seventh grade, at which point he became too frustrated with algebra and dropped out.

2. SANDERS STARTED SERVING HIS FAMOUS FRIED CHICKEN OUT OF A ROADSIDE SERVICE STATION.

For 25 years after leaving school, Sanders worked a series of odd jobs. By 1929 he was married with children, and Sanders opened a service station along Route 25 in Corbin, Ky. Still the family cook, he made some money on the side by selling hot meals to passing drivers. The simple Southern fare was so good that it quickly garnered local renown, earning Sanders the title of honorary colonel from the Kentucky governor in 1936 and a mention in Duncan Hines’s 1939 book Adventures in Good Eating. So he did away with the gas pumps and rebuilt the roadside business as a 142-seat restaurant and motel. This required Sanders to not only perfect the same secret chicken recipe still used by KFC today, but also to develop a method for quickly and consistently frying big batches of chicken.

3. ROAD RELOCATIONS FORCED SANDERS TO START FRANCHISING.

Sanders laid the groundwork for future franchising in 1952 when he met Pete Harman, a restaurant owner from Utah, at a food seminar. The two struck a deal, and Harman opened the first location called Kentucky Fried Chicken in Salt Lake City. Business boomed for Harman, especially after he invented the now-iconic to-go bucket; but back in Kentucky, changes to the road formations around Sanders's restaurant had resulted in less traffic and left his sales in the dust. So in 1956, the Colonel sold the Corbin location and decided to focus on franchising. Harman’s success had inspired a few interested franchisees, but at 66 years old, Sanders went on the road to drum up further interest. He brought a portable pressure cooker and a bag of seasoning from restaurant to restaurant, cooking for the staff and convincing them to buy into the company at a price of four cents for every chicken they cooked with his process.

4. WHEN SANDERS SOLD THE COMPANY, THE GRAVY CHANGED.

In 1964, less than a decade after branching out into franchising, there were already over 600 KFC locations in the U.S. and Canada. Sanders was 74 and still running the ship smoothly, but after months of wooing, he was convinced to sell the company to John Brown Jr. and Jack Massey for $2 million, an annual salary, and a position as the company’s adviser and spokesman. Sanders remained deeply involved and invested in the product and promotion until his death in 1980. (By the time he died, Brown had sold the company again and was governor of Kentucky.) But all his cursing and perfectionism couldn’t save his painstaking gravy.

“Let’s face it, the Colonel’s gravy was fantastic, but you had to be a Rhodes Scholar to cook it,” a company executive told The New Yorker in 1970. “It involved too much time, it left too much room for human error, and it was too expensive.” So the recipe was changed to the cheaper—though admittedly inferior—gravy they serve today.

5. IN FACT, SO MUCH CHANGED, SANDERS TRIED TO OPEN A COMPETING RESTAURANT.

After he sold the company, Sanders lived out the rest of his life as a KFC brand ambassador, but he didn’t always flatter the product he was supposed to be peddling—and it wasn’t just the gravy he complained about, either. In 1976, he visited a Greenwich Village location with a critic for The New York Times and declared it “the worst fried chicken I’ve ever seen.” (He called the gravy "wallpaper paste.") For their part, KFC maintained that the Colonel just wanted to keep standards as high as they had been when it was a small business. This may have been true, but it didn’t stop Sanders from trying to open a competing restaurant named Claudia Sanders: The Colonel’s Lady, after his second wife. KFC sued Sanders and the suit settled out of court for $1 million. (The restaurant still exists today as the Claudia Sanders Dinner House.)

6. THE CHICKEN RECIPE IS KEPT SECRET.

Super secret, in fact. During his lifetime, Sanders kept the blend of 11 herbs and spices first just in his own head and then written on a scrap of paper in his wallet. These days, the recipe is kept under literal lock and key at the KFC headquarters, with just a few select members of the company privy to the information and their names are never made public. Two separate suppliers are responsible for the blend so no outside sources are able to deduce the magic mixture.

The company never filed for a patent on the recipe because patents expire, but that doesn’t mean they won’t take legal action to keep the exact ratios and ingredients secret. In 2001, a couple living in Sanders’s former home found a handwritten note from the Colonel. They reached out to KFC with the intent of having it authenticated. Instead, they got sued. The company was afraid that the couple would sell the note and spill the secret. It was only after the note was inspected and found not to contain the recipe that the lawsuit was dropped.

7. …BUT THAT DOESN’T KEEP PEOPLE FROM TRYING TO REPLICATE IT.

Naturally, telling people they can’t have something—like the top secret recipe for fried chicken seasoning—only makes them more eager to get it. Plenty of people have tried to replicate the famous mix, but one man was particularly dedicated to the quest. Ron Douglas actually quit his finance management job to focus full-time on reverse engineering popular chain restaurant recipes, including KFC’s fried chicken. In 2009, Simon & Schuster published Douglas’ collection of America's Most Wanted Recipes with the KFC-dupe.

"The exact recipe has never been released," Douglas said at the time, "but mine comes really, really close. I kept trying, and with the help of the online community, we figured out a recipe that's so good most people can't tell the difference."

8. "KFC" DOESN’T STAND FOR ANYTHING. TECHNICALLY.

At least, not since 1991. Fried chicken never stopped being delicious, but in the early '90s as health-consciousness and diet crazes were on the rise, the company worried that the “fried” in Kentucky Fried Chicken was costing them valuable business. So they made a marketing decision to phase out the full name and become known exclusively by the acronym.

9. PEOPLE DON’T LIKE IT WHEN THE BRAND MESSES WITH THE COLONEL.

It doesn’t seem like Randy Quaid received much pushback when he voiced a cartoon version of the spokesman in 1999, but when the company revealed the new Colonel in the form of Darrell Hammond in May of this year, many people complained that wasn't the most respectful or accurate homage to the deceased Sanders. Even John Brown Jr., who once owned the company, weighed in, saying, "I think they are making fun of the Colonel. It is such a fascinating story, I hate to see them tarnish it." Regardless of whether or not they did so to appease the critics, KFC has already replaced Hammond—with yet another former SNL cast member, Norm Macdonald.

10. THE COLONEL IS THE STAR OF HIS OWN VIDEO GAME AND COMIC BOOK.

It seems that KFC has posthumously forgiven Colonel Sanders for all of his harsh words. This year, his likeness has starred in a video game called Colonel Quest and a graphic novel entitled KFC Presents: The Colonel’s Adventure Comics. Both riff on Sanders's real trials and tribulations before his late-in-life success.

11. IN JAPAN, KFC IS THE TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER.

The first KFC location in Japan opened in 1970. Soon after, company officials found out that foreigners in the country where Christmas isn’t a national holiday had defaulted to fried chicken when they couldn’t find turkey, and ad execs decided to run with it. In 1974, KFC had a campaign proclaiming “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) that was so successful it launched a national tradition. Decades later, Japanese families order their buckets of “Christmas Chicken” months in advance or face hours-long waits for a taste of quintessential “Americanness.”

12. KFC IS CONCERNED FOR YOUR SMARTPHONE.

The sort of messy finger food that KFC has always prided itself on isn’t necessarily a great match for the modern ubiquitous touchscreen device. And while customers could put down their phones for the duration of the meal, KFC is making it so they don’t have to. Earlier this year, the company rolled out a limited advertising campaign in Germany featuring the Tray Typer, a thin, durable, Bluetooth-compatible wireless keyboard that doubles as the lining on your fast food tray. This way, you can keep your fingers away from the phone while still accessing all your data.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Two of the Last Blockbuster Stores Are Closing
iStock
iStock

The fact that Blockbuster still has three stores in the U.S. may come as a surprise, but the video rental chain's days are numbered. The brand's two branches in Alaska will be closing up shop next week, leaving only one last holdout in Bend, Oregon, according to Engadget.

"If you'd asked me 14 years ago, there's no way I'd thought we'd be the last one," Sandi Harding, General Manager of the Oregon store, tells Engadget. "It just seems a little crazy.”

Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 but continued to license its logo to franchisees. In 2013, there were 13 remaining Blockbuster stores, and by 2016 there were nine. Many of these branches were located in Alaska, where internet is costly and many areas lack a broadband connection, making streaming difficult.

This alone wasn't enough to keep Blockbuster's Fairbanks and DeBarr Road locations in business, though. The stores will close July 16, but they'll reopen the following day for an inventory sale that will last until the end of August.

John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, became an unlikely champion of the DeBarr Road outlet last April when he bought the jockstrap worn by Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man for $7000 and donated it to the store in hopes of generating interest and foot traffic. It worked for a little while, but the effect was temporary and business dropped off once again. Indeed, the age of Netflix marks the end of an era.

[h/t Engadget]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Getty Images
11 Facts About 7-Eleven on 7/11
Getty Images
Getty Images

Happy 7-Eleven day! Don't forget to pick up a free Slurpee—and while you're enjoying the iconic slushie, read up on little-known tidbits about the popular company.

1. 7-ELEVEN STARTED IN 1927.

That was when Joe Thompson, an employee of the Southland Ice Company in Dallas, Texas, began selling eggs, milk, and bread from a makeshift storefront in one of the company’s icehouses. These bare necessities were kept cold thanks to the ice Southland produced, and local residents liked the convenience of avoiding the crowds and aisles of a regular grocery store if they only had to pick up a few items.

Thompson eventually bought out the ice company and started opening convenient little stores all over Texas. Shortly after, a company executive brought a souvenir totem pole back from a trip to Alaska, and set it in front of one of the busiest locations. Soon, the spot had earned the nickname the “Tote’m Store,” not only because of the totem pole, but because customers toted away their purchases. The company officially adopted the name and decorated their locations with an Inuit-inspired theme to match. The name changed to 7-Eleven in 1946 to reflect their new store hours—7:00am to 11:00pm—in order to capitalize on the post-World War II economic boom.

2. 7-ELEVEN'S NEW SCHEDULE WAS UNHEARD OF AT A TIME WHEN GROCERY STORES CLOSED MUCH EARLIER IN THE EVENING.

No one thought there would be demand for a store that was open 24/7—until one night in Austin in 1962. The local 7-Eleven had seen such a rush of students following a University of Texas football game that they were forced to stay open until dawn the next day. Sensing a trend, the store continued to stay open all night on the weekends, and soon more and more locations adopted the new schedule as well.

3. 7-ELEVEN IS ONE OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST FRANCHISE COMPANIES. WITH MORE THAN 55,000 LOCATIONS.


Getty Images

They beat out McDonald’s in 2007 and have since outgrown them by about 20,000 stores. Japan is the largest market with more than 20,000 stores under the name “Seven & I Holdings,” the parent company of 7-Eleven since 2005 [PDF]. America ranks among the top with 7896 locations, along with by Thailand and South Korea with more than 11000 and 7000 stores, respectively. And the company keeps growing, with a brand new store opening somewhere in the world every two hours of every day.

4. 7-ELEVEN RAN THE FIRST TELEVISION ADVERTISEMENT FOR A CONVENIENCE STORE IN 1949.

The ad touted their curbside grocery delivery service, and an animated rooster and owl reminded customers that the store was open early and closed late.

5. THE SLURPEE WAS INVENTED AT A DAIRY QUEEN.

In the late-1950s, Omar Knedlik of Kansas City owned a rundown Dairy Queen. When his soda fountain went on the fritz, he improvised by putting some bottles in the freezer to stay cool. However, when he popped the top, they were a little frozen and slushy. Folks loved them and started requesting "those pops that were in a little bit longer." Realizing he had a surprise hit on his hands, Knedlik built a specialized machine using the air conditioning unit from a car, and cranked out slushy soda by freezing a mixture of flavored syrup, water, and carbon dioxide to make it fizz. He called it an ICEE, but when the drink concept was licensed to 7-Eleven in 1965, the company’s marketing department renamed it the Slurpee after the sound made while sipping it through a straw.

6. EVERY YEAR SINCE 2002, 7-ELEVEN HAS GIVEN AWAY FREE SMALL SLURPEES TO CELEBRATE THE COMPANY'S BIRTHDAY ON JULY 11(7/11).

Getty Images

On this one day, 7-Eleven gives away about 500,000 gallons of Slurpees ... in North America anyway. In Australia, where the ice cold drink is also very popular, Slurpees are given away on November 7 (written Down Under as 7/11) to the tune of about 270,000 gallons.

7. ALMOST ALL SLURPEE FLAVORS ARE CONSIDERED KOSHER PAREVE (FOOD THAT IS NEITHER MEAT NOR DAIRY).

There are a few, such as Diet Pepsi and the Jolly Rancher mixes, that are considered kosher dairy (due to the chemical tagatose in the artificial sweetener), while others, like the popular Piña Colada drink, are not certified at all. Some 7-Eleven stores get the machines themselves certified kosher as a selling point for their Jewish customers.

8. FOR 14 YEARS RUNNING, THE RULING SLURPEE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN MANITOBA, CANADA.

The province has an average of over 188,000 Slurpees sold in five regional stores every month. According to 7-Eleven, Calgary—and America’s #1 Slurpee market, Detroit—are closing in on the champs, though. Maybe next year, guys.

As for the biggest-selling single Slurpee location in the world, that title goes to the 7-Eleven in Kennewick, Washington, which locals have dubbed “The Slurpee Factory.” But 7-Eleven crowns more than just a Slurpee king. According to 7-Eleven, Maryland is the leader in hot dog sales, Long Islanders drink the most coffee, and Utah residents can’t go anywhere without a Big Gulp in their cupholders.

9. SINCE THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, 7-ELEVEN HAS RUN A PROMOTION CALLED "7-ELECTION."

Customers vote by purchasing special red or blue coffee cups printed with each candidate's name. The cups are scanned at check-out and automatically entered in this unscientific, but surprisingly accurate poll—in 2000 and 2004, the number of coffee cup votes and the number of actual popular votes for both candidates was only off by 1 or 2 percentage points. While 2008's 7-Elections results were still correct, they gave the election to Obama by a landslide—60 percent to 40 percent—when the margin was really only about 7 percent. The trend continued in 2012, as caffeine addicts went blue to the tune of 59 percent for Obama to 41 percent for Romney, while the actual vote wound up being 51 percent to 47 percent.

10. TO PROMOTE THE RELEASE OF THE SIMPSONS MOVIEIN 2007, 12 SELECT 7-ELEVENS IN NORTH AMERICA WERE CONVERTED INTO KWIK-E-MARTS.

That's the convenience store in Springfield owned by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. At a cost of about $10 million, the 7-Eleven stores had their exterior signs replaced to reflect the fictitious store name and many of the products inside were modeled after those seen on the show. For example, customers could buy Krusty-O’s cereal, a limited edition Radioactive Man comic book, six packs of Buzz Cola, and even Squishees, the Simpsons version of the Slurpee. Sadly, Homer’s favorite swill, Duff Beer, was not available as the film being promoted was rated PG-13. Instead, they had a Duff Energy Drink with a label very similar to the animated brew. While not all locations were transformed into Kwik-E-Marts, special Simpsons merchandise was available at all 7-Eleven locations, including Homer’s own Woo-Hoo Blue Vanilla Slurpees with collectible straws.

11. 7-ELEVENS ARE DIFFERENT ALL AROUND THE WORLD.

In America, we see 7-Eleven as little more than a convenient place to grab a quick cup of coffee before work or a Big Gulp while we’re out running errands. But in other parts of the world, the shops are a lot more important to the local population. In Indonesia, for example, 7-Elevens are more like a hip, upscale coffeehouse where 65 percent of customers are under the age of 30. The stores offer free Wi-Fi, plenty of tables and chairs inside and out on the sidewalk, and often feature live musical performances. Young people gather there late into the night to socialize, work online, and eat local favorites like fried rice, tiny sandwiches filled with cheese or chocolate called pillow bread, and chicken katsu, a Japanese-style fried cutlet.

In Taiwan, 7-Elevens are more common than Starbucks in Seattle. In the capital city of Taipei, there are more than 4000 locations in a city of 23 million, with many city blocks capable of sustaining more than one location. Aside from purchasing local food and Slurpees, customers can pay credit card and utility bills, book travel arrangements, and buy small electronics like iPods. It’s also not unusual for people to have packages delivered to their closest 7-Eleven instead of their home, because it’s more convenient to pick it up late at night instead of trying to coordinate with a deliveryman. The government has even given into the popularity of the shops by allowing people to pay traffic tickets and property taxes there, and using them as a hub for special programs like health screenings.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios