I don't regularly get the chance to eat at Carl's Jr. or Hardee's restaurants; I don't live in the requisite locations for them, so my options are limited by geography. Lately, though, I've been notice certain… similarities between them. It all goes back to the fact that one of the latest fast food creations to hit the scene — the Thickburger El Diablo — is being offered at both restaurants. So, the question that arises (or at least, the one that arises for those of us who spend way too much time thinking about these kinds of things) is this: Are Carl's Jr. and Hardee's the same? Although one of them is based and California and the other operates primarily in the South and Midwest, the short answer is yes — they're very closely related, right down to the smiling star logo. But the longer answer is a lot more interesting, so let's take a closer look, shall we?
Carl's Jr. actually has a history spanning almost 75 years — and it all begins with a hot dog cart. In 1941, Carl N. Karcher and his wife, Margaret, purchased the cart using their savings ($15, or about $237.96 today after adjusting for inflation) and some borrowed cash ($311, or just shy of $5,000). The business they grew out of that cart, which initially operated at 110 North Harbor Blvd. in Anaheim, California, became so successful that soon it encompassed four carts. Less than five years after they bought the first one, they opened a hamburger restaurant called Carl's Drive-In Barbeque. Business kept booming, resulting in the creation of the first two Carl's Jr. locations in 1956. Why Carl's Jr? Because they were smaller versions of Carl's Drive-In Barbeque, of course. The Happy Star logo made its debut around this time, too.
Yeah. That one.
Meanwhile, North Carolina native Wilbur Hardee opened his very first restaurant in Greenville in 1960. Unlike Carl's Jr., Hardee's was a burger joint right from the start — and it was a successful one, too. Upon hearing about the restaurant's successes, entrepreneurs Leonard Rawls and Jim Gardner approached Hardee about forming a partnership; Hardee's Drive-Ins, Inc., was established shortly thereafter, with franchises kicking up by the end of the decade — although Hardee himself sold his half of the company to Rawls and Gardner in 1961.
Both Carl's Jr. and Hardee's had its ups and downs in the intervening decades. Karcher was accused of insider trading in the '80s, which was obviously a blow to the company's reputation; furthermore, attempts to branch out into other markets were a mixed bag. Karcher was ousted as CEO in 1993, at which point the chain became pretty much what we know today. Hardee's, on the other hand, had some good years of growth; it started to fail towards the end of the '90s, though, at which point it was purchased by CKE Restaurants — AKA, Carl's Jr.'s parent company (the initials originally stood for Carl Karcher Enterprises).
Once CKE had Hardee's under its belt, it made an attempt to revive the flagging chain by kitting up some of its locations with popular Carl's Jr. menu items. Thickburgers began appearing on the menu in 2003, and the star logo — called “Star Hardee's,” rather than “Happy Star” — became its signature (as seen above). These days, there are actually more Hardee's restaurants than Carl's Jr. ones; CKE operates approximately 1,100 Carl's Jr. locations and almost 2,000 Hardee's. There are a few differences (Hardee's doesn't do salads, for example, while Carl's Jr. does), but they're ultimately kind of like your eyebrows: Sisters, not twins.
Still don't believe me about how similar they are? Here's a screenshot of the menu page on Carl's Jr.'s website:
And here's one of the menu page on the Hardee's website:
I rest my case.