What’s the Difference Between Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.?
Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s signs and menus look exactly alike—down to that cheery little star logo. Are they the same restaurant owned by someone who couldn’t decide on a name, or are the similar identities the result of a turf war?
The two burger chains started out as totally separate entities, one on the West Coast and one in the eastern U.S. Carl’s Jr. is the elder of the two, founded as a Los Angeles hot dog stand in 1941 by Carl Karcher. Business thrived, and five years later there were five full-sized Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue restaurants, which by then had begun serving hamburgers. Before long, burgers were the chain’s bestselling menu item, so Karcher decided to open a separate group of small, quick-service burger joints, dubbing them Carl’s Jr.
Wilbur Hardee opened his first restaurant in North Carolina in 1960; soon, Hardee’s became a familiar fast food sight in the Midwest and South. Hardee’s corporate strategy was to open restaurants in smaller towns that were not served by McDonald’s or Burger King, and by all accounts, it paid off. By the early ‘90s, there were more than 2500 Hardee’s locations, making it the country’s fourth-largest fast food chain.
In 1997, Carl Karcher’s partnership, CKE Restaurants, acquired Hardee’s for $327 million. The move was an opportunity for Carl’s Jr. to quietly expand into the East without agitating Hardee’s existing customers. They kept the name, and, at first, the menu that folks were familiar with; the partnership started to introduce Carl’s menu items to Hardee’s locations in the early 2000s. They also refurbished the existing buildings and signage, eventually leading to the strikingly similar appearances today.
A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2023.