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R.I.P. Carl Karcher, Farewell My Friend

Posted on January 11, 2008
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Carl Karcher, (Carl Karcher, 1917-2008) parlayed a single hot dog pushcart into a chain of more than 1,000 fast-food restaurants bearing his name, past away today. He was 90.

The affable, burly entrepreneur, known to millions as the jovial television pitchman for the Carl’s Jr. chain, died of complications from Parkinson’s-related pneumonia at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, according to Beth Mansfield, a spokeswoman for parent company CKE Restaurants.

A classic rags to riches story from the period of the Great Depression, in 1941, Carl borrowed $311 against his new Plymouth sedan, kicked in $15 of his own and bought a hot dog cart, which he set up at Florence and Central avenues in South-Central Los Angeles, across from the old Goodyear plant. According to the Orange County Business Journal, sales that first day totaled $14.75.

Business picked up, and, within months, Carl owned several other hot dog carts. After a stint in the Army during World War II, he returned to Southern California in 1945 and opened his first full-service restaurant, called Carl’s Drive-In Barbeque, in Anaheim. In 1956, he opened two more restaurants, one in Brea and the other in Anaheim. Smaller versions of the first restaurant, they were called Carl’s Jr.

He worked tirelessly on behalf of local causes, including United Way of Orange County, Orangewood Children’s Home, the Roman Catholic Knights of Malta, and South Coast Repertory.

When I was a young, college student Carl always returned my calls and welcomed me to his office to discuss college causes. He never said no when we needed his help on behalf of student issues. A fond memory I have of him is that every time I shook his hand to bid farewell he would hand me a burger VIP card with a scripture note. He was also fond of Horatio Alger books I recall.

People had issues with his personal politics, but what mattered to me was that he was a passionate man with nothing but the sincerest heart in everything he did. Above all, to his very core, Carl was a deeply spiritual man. It was said he never missed a day from church every morning prior to engaging in his routine 80 hour work weeks.

He leaves the world with 12 children and 51 grandchildren.

You’ll be missed my friend. I’ll have a famous star and remember that firm grip and your VIP cards and huge welcoming smile.

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