Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Legend In Business And A Legend In Life Passes On

A couple of days ago, it was Johnny Grant. It's weird how we lose legends "in threes" as most people say. And on Friday, we lost another one. Carl Karcher, who turned a lone hot dog cart in Los Angeles into the Carl's Jr. fast-food chain, died Friday just five days short of what would have been his 91st birthday. I met him many years ago while working on a video shoot her in LA and he was one of the nicest and gracious gentleman I've ever met. Sadly, Karcher was suffering from Parkinson's disease-related pneumonia.

Carl was an icon in the business world. Born in Sandusky, Ohio, Karcher left school during the eighth grade to help on the family farm. In 1939, he moved to Anaheim where his uncle ran a small business. Two years later, Karcher and his wife Margaret, started their first business, a hot dog cart, in Los Angeles, borrowing $311 against their Plymouth and adding the $15 from Margaret's purse. In 1945, the Karchers opened their first full-service restaurant, Carl's Drive-In Barbecue in Anaheim.

In 1966, the company incorporated as Carl Karcher Enterprises. By 1974, Carl's Jr. had grown to 100 restaurants and 300 by 1981, the year the company first offered stock publicly. In 1994, stockholders approved a change of the structure of the company to include a new parent company, CKE Restaurants. The business that began with that first hot dog cart has grown to include more than 3,000 restaurants, and 30,000 employees worldwide. CKE Restaurants, Inc., through its subsidiaries, had a total of 3,036 franchised or company-operated restaurants in 43 states and in 13 countries, including 1,121 Carl's Jr.® restaurants, 1,915 Hardee's® restaurants. Karcher had long served as his company's chairman and chief executive officer, retiring as chairman emeritus in 2004 because of poor health.

He touched countless lives through his generosity as a business leader and philanthropist and his legacy will most certainly live on. On the Carl's Jr. website, they posted this video tribute to their founder and friend and because he touched my life in just a small way, I had to post it here. Karcher is survived by 11 of his children, 51 grandchildren and 45 great-grandchildren. Karcher's wife died in June 2006 of liver cancer.

Carl was an active supporter and board member of many non-profit groups and encouraged community involvement within the company he founded. He chaired the 1978 and 1979 Orange County United Way campaign and raised more than $18 million. He and his wife Margaret generously and enthusiastically contributed to many organizations, and were long-time supporters of such groups as Providence Speech and Hearing Center and Lestonnac Free Clinic.

Well, another legend is gone. I'll always remember that day I met him when he gave me a couple of cards for a free Lucky Star hamburger and a piece of the Berlin Wall. Carl had just returned from a trip to Berlin to see the torn down wall and gave out entire crew these little pieces of the wall. He was proud of that moment. He'll surely be missed but every time I have a Lucky Star, I'll definitely remember that special day.