Has it really been 4 years since Wilbur Hardee died? Small towns across the Deep South owe this man a debt of thanks, as Hardees was a sort of pioneer of fast food in the rural hamlets that larger chains avoided.
I grew up fast food free but this was not by choice. Every kid wants to eat whoppers and big macs and brazier burgers, but I grew up in an area that was so rural, no fast food companies could carve out enough market to produce profits.
Then Hardee’s came to Appalachia. It was a big deal that I could finally partake in the fast food that I was seeing ads for on TV. Of course my youthful taste buds pronounced it delicious and many years would pass before I saw the error of my ways.
Driving through Alabama last week, I attempted to eat at a handful of barbecue and fried chicken houses but had zero luck. Big Daddy’s was closed, Johnny’s was closed, Prince’s Fried Chicken was closed and the directions I got from the girl on the phone at Big Bob Gibson’s were so laughably bad that I ended up in Tennessee.
Where I stumbled upon a Hardee’s, a place that I had not visited since I was barely old enough to use my dad’s electric razor. I went with the go-to order of my childhood; a fried chicken sandwich.
It was unfathomably delicious.
Of course this probably had more to do with my being twelve hundred miles in, on an exhausting motorbike ride, coupled with having zero nutrients in roughly ten hours but still, that was one good sandwich.
Hardee’s has been around since 1960. The chain got its start in Greenville, North Carolina near the campus of East Carolina University. Wilbur Hardee walked away from the successful enterprise when he got hornswoggled out of his controlling interest by his two partners.
He went on to found dozens of concept restaurants across the Deep South, but none took root like Hardee’s. Growing up in Kentucky, the only chain you’d see in little towns in the rugged eastern mountains of the state, was Hardee’s.
It was solid country gold. Charcoal burgers, fried chicken sandwiches and fluffy, scratch biscuits were my favorite menu items when I was just a young buck. As the years passed and other fast food restaurants started to make inroads into Appalachia, I avoided them like the plague. I was a teen-age Hardee’s loyalist.
And as it turns out, they can still put a top flight sandwich on your tray for under 5 bucks.