The story behind Kentucky's Colonel - WDRB 41 Louisville News

The story behind Kentucky's Colonel

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --You can spot his facial hair, white suit, and bow tie from miles away. He's on buildings, arenas, buckets, and signs.

"Colonel Sanders is obviously an American icon," a KFC customer said.

Colonel Harland Sanders built an empire in the Bluegrass, even though he was actually born in Henryville. The taste and culture he developed though was undeniably Kentucky.

"Good, quality, wholesome, Southern style food," United States KFC General Manager, Jason Marker explained.

And it still thrives years after the Colonel's death.

"No other fried chicken tastes like it," a customer told WDRB.

Today, fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken has new slogans, fancy looking restaurants, and new test stores trying "a healthier foods" approach. But, all of that came pretty close to never happening.

You've got to go way back to the mid-1900s to find out why. That's when the Colonel was looking to make some money with the chicken he loved to cook.

"He created the 11 herbs and spices," Dennis Overbey, GM of the original KFC, explained.

He got started selling it at a Corbin, Kentucky gas station. People liked his chicken enough to allow the "chicken man" as they called him then, to set up shop in an actual restaurant, Sander's Cafe. Business was good, for a little while.

"The interstate came by, so that took all of his business," said Overbey.

I-75 brought restaurants with it that set up shop right off the exit. A lot of restaurant owners would've given up, and closed in those days, but not Sanders. He decided to take to the road himself, in the search of franchises.

It wasn't long until he didn't have to worry about the birthplace of KFC, because he had scores of other restaurants that made Kentucky Fried Chicken a household name.

The Colonel became a celebrity; he was in advertisements and on TV. Then, other KFC stores opened around the globe.

"KFC is in 120 countries in the world today," Marker explained.

Everyone credits that to the man behind the original recipe.

"He was just so ordinary, and yet he was exceptional," former employee and friend, Shirley Topmiller said.

He was also a perfectionist.

"If he didn't like your gravy, he'd just take it and throw it down on the floor, and then you'd clean up the mess," Overbey said.

It's more of his mild mannered approach that KFC higher ups still use to this day at YUM! Brands in Louisville.

Each menu item is tested time and time again at the KFC world headquarters.

There are also concept stores like KFC Eleven, that allow the company to try new things like rice bowls, flatbreads, and salads -- without straying too far away from the KFC standard.

"Ultimately it's to make sure that the big brand gets the best products as quickly as it can get them," Marker said.

That big brand has in no doubt played at least a small role in the success of other chicken chains like Chick-Fil-A, Lee's, Popeye's, and Church's. Places that in no doubt would love to know that secret recipe under surveillance, and locked away,

They'd probably also love to have the tradition that keeps people young and old hitting up restaurants for lunch, and bringing home buckets of KFC chicken for dinner.

"The kids in the area, it's good for them to see. They can potentially do whatever they want, and become world-wide known if they do it right," customer John Blevins said.

One thing's for sure, the Colonel did it right.

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