21 January 2021

A SLC Original: First KFC Restaurant Franchise

KFC Bucket, 1969, from Smithsonian
National Museum of American History
SLC is home to the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant franchise.

Leon W. “Pete” Harman (1919-2014), a native of Granger and a graduate of Cyprus High School in Magna, pioneered the first Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchise and helped build one of the world’s most prolific chicken brands.

In 1941, Pete and Arlene Harmon relocated from San Francisco back to Utah and opened their first restaurant, the Do Drop Inn, with a total capital investment of $15. Located at 3890 S State their new hamburger and root beer stand only sat 15 people.

The restaurant succeeded and every year Harmon would add to the menu and expand the restaurant’s building, except for his two years in the Army when he served in the infantry during WWII. Eventually, he renamed the restaurant Harmon’s Café which had amassed a seating capacity of 240 people, plus car service.

The biggest change to the menu took place in 1952 with the addition of “Kentucky fried chicken.”

Colonel Harland Sanders had perfected his chicken recipe through the 1930s and 1940s and operated his own restaurant, the Sanders Court & Café, in Corbin, KY. When I-75 bypassed Corbin, Col Sanders sold his restaurant and traveled the US to sell his chicken recipe to other restaurant owners. He was an early pioneer in the concept of franchising.

The first to accept his offer was Pete Harman in SLC. With a handshake agreement, the Harmans agreed to pay Col Sanders five cents for every chicken sold. For $3.50, customers received 14 pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls and gravy.

With the success of this handshake agreement Col Sanders incorporated his company under the name Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1952. By the early 1960s, KFC was sold in over 600 franchised outlets.

The partnership between Harman and Sanders continued to work together through the years. Harman invented the famous “to-go” paper bucket, developed training manuals and product guides for other franchisees, and emphasized the “Finger-lickin’ good” motto.

The first KFC (Harmon’s Café) at 3900 S. State in SLC was demolished in 2004 and rebuilt in the same location as a museum and an updated restaurant.

Vintage Harmons Café photo on display at Café/Museum

Harman and Sanders at the SLC Airport 1954, from UDSH.

Harman and Sanders photo on display at Café/Museum

An original Col Sanders suit on display at Café/Museum

An original pressure cooker on display at Café/Museum

Harmans Café 2002, before the demolition. GettyImages

Harmans Café 2019, after 2004 demolition and rebuild.

Statue of Harman and Sanders outside of the Cafe/Museum

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