1979 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"The risks you take in all walks of life develop your character."
One of eight children in his family, Carl Karcher was born on a farm in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, in 1917. His parents taught their children that the harder they worked, the more they would have. They refused to allow their children to use the word "can't." Even though they were strict, Karcher has fond memories of his parents and their "wonderful family life" on the farm.
To help his parents with the farm, Karcher left school in the eighth grade. At the age of 21, toward the end of the Depression, he left Ohio and lived with his uncle in California, where he worked in a feed and seed store. His 12-hour work days, six days a week, earned him $62 a month. Two years later, he became a bread wrapper for Armstrong Bakery in Los Angeles.
In July 1941, Karcher felt ready to run his own business. He bought a hot dog cart for $311, putting up his car as collateral. Customers loved his "Super-Dooper" 10-cent hot dog and his clientele grew steadily. In 1945, he leased a small restaurant in Anaheim and named it Carl's Drive-in Barbecue, which he and his wife ran for 10 years. In 1955, when his landlord told him his lease would not be renewed, he bought a three-car garage and moved it to a vacant lot across from the restaurant. He was back in business within a month.
He opened two smaller versions of his new restaurant in 1956 and dubbed them Carl's Jr., which launched Carl Karcher Enterprises. His restaurant chain continued to grow and went public in 1981. Three years later, Karcher's son-in-law and younger brother became the first Carl's Jr. franchisees, beginning a new era in the company. Today, the company has grown to more than 4,000 restaurants operating under several brand names. Through its subsidiaries and franchises, CKE Restaurants operates 820 Carl's Jr. restaurants, primarily located in California, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, and Mexico. The company also operates 2,825 Hardees restaurants in 39 states and 11 foreign countries, and 110 Taco Bueno restaurants in Texas and Oklahoma. The company employs about 62,000 people and has annual sales that exceed $1 billion.
In 1991, Karcher published the story of his life, Never Stop Dreaming. In it, he says, "With the help and support of my wife and children, my faith in God, my good health, my belief in the free enterprise system, and my willingness to work hard, there was no way I could have failed."
Karcher says his Horatio Alger Award has always meant a great deal to him. "Being a member of the Association is one of the greatest rewards of my life. The scholarship program is fantastic and I am proud to be a part of it."* Deceased