Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
Questioning did Colonel Sanders like KFC is a surefire way to end up in KFC’s bad books.
The idea that the world’s most famous chicken merchant didn’t want to have anything to do with his chicken seems laughable. However, as with any successful fast food business, the truth is actually much murkier.
Did Colonel Sanders like KFC?
As it turns out, Colonel Sanders relationship with his brainchild became increasingly fraught. What started as a celebration of delicious chicken quickly soured into something bordering on sinister.
Even though the famous franchise continues to live in the shadow of the Colonel, the real Sanders had some serious issues with the company.
Here are some surprising and shocking facts about KFC’s creator that may change your perception of your favourite fried chicken.
Did Colonel Sanders like KFC? – Credit: PA
He wasn’t a real colonel
Despite spending most of his career with a military title, Sanders rank was purely symbolic. Contrary to his lofty denomination, he was never an official US Army colonel.
However, although he never commanded troops into battle, Sanders was actually made an honorary colonel by the State of Kentucky in 1935. This is what led to the creation of the colonel character we know and love today.
His first restaurant was in a petrol station
While modern KFC is one of the best-known restaurants around, the original location wasn’t even dedicated to food.
Sanders’ first restaurant was actually located inside a Shell gas station in Corbin, Kentucky in 1930. It was here that he perfected and patented his signature spice blend.
He once shot a competitor
Despite his jolly countenance, Colonel Sanders had a fierce temper. Few stories demonstrate this better than the fateful encounter between Sanders and a Kentucky business rival.
After hearing that a neighbouring gas station owner was painting over his advertising, Sanders went with two Shell company executives to confront him. The meeting turned violent, leading to the rival shooting one of the executives dead on the spot.
Sanders returned fire, hitting his rival in the shoulder. Though his competitor was sentenced to 18 years for murder, Sanders escaped all charges.
His language was terrible
Despite KFC’s family-friendly image, Sanders himself swore like a navy. This was particularly true if he was ever displeased with the quality of a KFC franchise.
A 1970 New Yorker profile declared, “The Colonel is famous among KFC people for the force and variety of his swearing”. Clearly, you crossed Sanders at your peril.
He only made $2 million selling the business
Today, KFC is worth an estimated $5.5bn. Unfortunately, Sanders wasn’t to know that when he sold the company to a group of investors for just $2 million in 1964.
Despite selling his stake in the business, Sanders continued to work as the public face of KFC. However, it’s clear that, though he lived in comfort for the rest of his days, he may well have sold short.
He tried to sue KFC
There were many things about KFC’s new ownership that irritated the ageing colonel. In particular, Sanders couldn’t stomach the idea of KFC’s food being anything other than top quality.
In 1973, Sanders sued the new owners for $122 million after they attempted to prevent him from opening a rival restaurant in Kentucky. Eventually, both parties settled out of court and Sanders gave a cooking lesson to company executives.
He hated the gravy
Though Sanders disliked many things about KFC’s new operation, he reserved particular ire for the gravy. After the company changed his original recipe due to cost, Sanders went on the warpath.
The same 1970 New Yorker feature quoted Sanders as saying that the new formula “ain’t fit for my dogs”. He also variously likened the sauce to “wallpaper paste” and “slop”.
He was a serial philanderer
Away from the kitchen, Sanders was notorious for his sexual proclivities. He had a string of relationships, both in and out of wedlock, including with KFC employees.
In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that his attitude towards women may have been actively misogynistic. A 2015 Entrepreneur article, for instance, quotes Sanders as saying of a crowd of female fans:
“Umm, that gal’s let herself go… Look at the size of that one… I don’t know when I’ve seen so many fat ones… Lord, look at ’em waddle.”
He might have cursed a baseball team
Sanders influence on the fast food industry cannot be overstated. However, what’s even more surprising is that this legacy may extend into the world of sport.
In 1985, a victorious Japanese baseball team once threw a statue of the Colonel into a river to celebrate their success. They haven’t won a championship since.
This has led some to conclude that they are still suffering from “The Curse of the Colonel”.
Founding one of the world’s most famous company’s automatically means that you probably won’t have a normal life. That being said, Colonel Harland Sanders was eccentric by any measure.
If the answer to the question did Colonel Sanders like KFC is perhaps the least shocking thing about him, you know his story is pretty wild.