Mental Floss

5 Country Stars Who Got Fried in the Food Business

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By Bill DeMain

1. Minnie Pearl's Fried Chicken

In 1967, Nashville attorney John Jay Hooker convinced Grand Ole Opry comedienne Minnie Pearl that she could sell more drumsticks than Colonel Sanders. After all, Minnie Pearl seemed like the sort of lady who'd have a good family recipe for fried chicken. Unfortunately, she didn't. But that didn't stop Hooker from selling franchises.

Within no time, plans were in place for 300 restaurants and public stock was worth $64 million. Meanwhile, no one seemed worried that only five restaurants were actually operating and that no two franchises used the same chicken recipe. Regular customer complaints, combined with an SEC investigation into the company's accounting practices, meant that it wasn't long before the restaurants began hemorrhaging money. By late 1971, the last bird had been fried. Hooker spent decades living down the debacle, while Pearl continued to apologize to her fans right up until her death in 1996.

2. Twitty Burger

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When Conway decided to repay his investors, he deducted the $100,000 as a business expense on his tax returns. (Another bad idea.) The IRS soon caught wind, and Twitty wound up in court. Lucky for him, he was assigned to Judge Leo Irwin, an amateur singer with a soft spot for country. Not only did Irwin allow Twitty to keep the money, but after he read the verdict, he sang a song he wrote entitled "Ode to Conway Twitty."

3. PoFolks

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4. Kenny Rogers Roasters

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While Rogers was an affable spokesman, he didn't know his brand. In 1997, on Late Night with Conan O' Brien, Rogers failed a blind taste test, choosing chicken from the NBC cafeteria instead of his own. That may have been a sign. The company filed for bankruptcy a year later, meaning that Kenny didn't know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

5. Jimmy Dean Sausages

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While running the company with his brother, Dean pitched his product on TV, singing of sausage "from the whole hawg, not just the leavin's." Amazingly, those leavin's didn't go to waste, either. The inner skins were donated to burn treatment centers, while the outer skins were fashioned into coats for Dean's spin-off company, Pigskin. Other spare parts were turned into cat food. But trouble soon surfaced in hog heaven.

The company expanded too fast, and unsophisticated accounting practices and manufacturing equipment couldn't keep up. When the stress started taking a toll on Jimmy Dean's health, he sold the company in 1984. Despite the change in ownership, Jimmy stood by his product and kept his job as pitchman for another 20 years.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

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