Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Hardee's was founded by Wilbur Hardee, who opened his first restaurant in Greenville, North Carolina, in 1960. The chain grew by franchising and by acquiring other restaurant chains. They purchased Sandy's in 1972, Burger Chef in 1982, and Roy Rogers in 1990. The chain, with more than 2,000 restaurants, existed just about everywhere in the United States outside of the West Coast at that point.
Hardee's was owned by Imasco Limited from 1981 through 1997. While its popular breakfast menu -- featuring "made from scratch" biscuits -- had been its strength in the 1980s and 1990s, Hardee's was frequently criticized for its low hamburger quality. The popular west coast-based Carl's Jr. acquired the company in 1997, seeing it as a quick-and-easy method to expand nationwide. Over time, the Hardee's restaurants were converted to serve the much higher-quality burgers of Carl's Jr, and also took on the Carl's Jr. star logo in the process. The stigma of the Hardee's name, however, continued to drive away customers, and initially many analysts considered the buyout a bad investment.
However, with the introduction of the highly promoted "Thickburger" in 2003, which was made from high-quality Angus beef, Hardee's revenue began to increase. Thickburgers are sold in sizes up to 2/3-pound, pre-cooked weight. The item was so popular that Carl's Jr. introduced the Thickburger to their menu (retitled the "Six-Dollar Burger", allegedly because it was of the same quality as a burger one would pay six dollars for in a sit-down restaurant such as Chili's), along with some of Hardee's popular breakfast items. In November 2004, Hardee's introduced the Monster Thickburger; containing 1,420 calories and 107 fat grams, it is argubly the largest hamburger on any American fast food menu.
In the early days of the takeover by Carls Jr., Hardee's used the anthromorphized, smiling star logo that Carl's Jr. had used for many years. "The Hardee's Star", as it was now called, appeared in a series of commercials played by a dwarf in a costume likeness of the star. Norm MacDonald provided the voice for the Hardee's Star. The star remains Hardee's logo, but ceased appearing in the commercials with the advent of the Thickburger campaign.
Early commercials made a point of acknowledging and apologizing for the poor quality of Hardee's cuisine and service in the past. A 2004 ad featuring tight close-up shots of a busty model eating a Thickburger while riding a mechanical bull was criticized for its apparent sexism. A follow-up ad showed a woman stuffing her entire fist into her mouth to demonstrate the size of the Thickburger. Another ad includes a commercial targeted at pregnant women telling them to enjoy Hardee's while they can, because they will "be eating at McDonald's for the next twelve years," pointing out the cost/quality balance of their food.
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