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Are Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. the Same Thing?

If your stomach’s growling, it might be time to find something cheap and easy to eat. Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are two popular choices for filling your belly on the go.

However, the two brands look remarkably similar, including the cute star in their logos.

So what’s the deal with these two popular fast food chains? Are Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. the same thing? Or are they twins separated at birth? Let’s take a closer look!

What Is Hardee’s?

Hardee’s is a popular fast-food chain that has operated for more than 60 years. They currently serve their delicious food at over 1,800 restaurants located in the United States and 13 other countries. They’re primarily located in the Midwest and Southeast.

The first Hardee’s location opened in Greenville, N.C., on Sept. 3, 1960. The owner was Wilber Hardee. The location offered 10-cent fries, 20-cent milkshakes, and 15-cent hamburgers. Word of their delicious food quickly spread, and they had more than 200 locations by the end of the 1960s.

Hardee’s is known for pushing the limits when offering new and innovative products. They did introduce the world to “Fruit Loops Mini Donuts,” after all. However, they have a variety of fast food staples on their menu. There’s a good chance you’ll find something on their menu that pleases your tastebuds.

What Is Carl’s Jr.?

Carl’s Jr. started as a hot dog stand in Los Angeles in 1941. Carl Karcher and his wife Margaret sold hot dogs, chili dogs, and tamales for 10 cents. You could also purchase a soda for five cents.

Their hot dog cart quickly became the talk of Southern California, and the couple expanded their operation to four carts spread throughout SoCal. In 1945, the couple opened Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue in Anaheim and, within a year, added hamburgers to their menu.

To compete with a small, quick-serve burger chain that would eventually become McDonald’s, Karcher opened a couple of “Carl’s Jr.” locations. These were smaller operations than their main Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue location but would revolutionize the fast food industry. Karcher installed a drive-thru window, which was unheard of in the industry.

Karcher had multiple business entities, and in 1964 he incorporated them into Carl Karcher Enterprises, CKE Restaurants.

Woman eating cheeseburger at Hardee's
While owned by the same person, there are some key differences between Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

Who Owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.?

Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are owned by Carl Karcher Enterprises (CKE Restaurants). The CKE HQ is in Franklin, Tenn., despite its roots out west. While owned by the same parent company, the two brands operate as separate entities.

When Did Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s Combine?

In 1997, Carl Karcher Enterprises spent $327 million to purchase Hardee’s. This brought Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. under the umbrella of CKE. They purposefully made very few noticeable changes after taking ownership.

Why Are Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Different Names?

CKE wanted to expand its business and offerings eastward. However, they saw value in joining forces with an already established brand in the industry. 

CKE Restaurants understood that some customers are very loyal to specific brands. As a result, it was several years before CKE made any significant changes to the branding or menu of Hardee’s.

Like siblings, the two entities retain individualistic characteristics that make them unique. Having two brands allows them to reach a wider variety of potential customers and generate more revenue for the parent company.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat on your road trip, make sure to avoid eating these 5 gas station foods.

Person eating hamburger in car
When your stomach starters growling, a meal at either Hardee’s or Carl’s Jr. is sure to leave you feeling full.

What’s the Difference Between Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s?

While Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s may have some similarities, there are some noticeable differences. Let’s look at some differences you might notice between these two brands.

Different Founders

As we stated earlier, the companies started as two separate entities. Carl’s Jr. was founded in 1941 as a hot dog cart in Los Angeles by Carl Karcher and his wife, Margaret. They grew their operation into a full-service restaurant and eventually two smaller versions of their restaurant.

On the other hand, Hardee’s would be the younger sibling in this relationship as it is 20 years younger. It was opened by Wilber Hardee and a couple of investors in 1960. They expanded to a second location in 1961 and would quickly have hundreds of locations by the end of the 1960s.

Different Menus

While the two brands are similar, they have different menus. Hardee’s tends to lend itself more to a breakfast menu, with a few specific offerings for its southern clientele. Hardee’s is the only place you’ll find the crispy buttermilk fried chicken biscuit drizzled with real honey butter. In addition, they also offer fried steak biscuits. When it comes to southern food, you’ll want to choose Hardee’s.

On the other hand, while Carl’s Jr. has some southern staples on its menu, its main focus for breakfast is burritos. Compared to Hardee’s, you can find some unique and trendy sandwiches and burritos on the Carl’s Jr. menu.

Different Advertising Styles

Carl’s Jr. pushes the limits in trying to reach the younger crowd. Their ads typically use celebrity endorsements and sex appeal to sell their burgers. They’re not afraid of creating a stir when it comes to attracting attention.

On the other hand, Hardee’s typically sticks to its southern roots and looks for a more wholesome and family-friendly marketing method. They’ll use celebrities with a more positive reputation that appeals to a much different clientele than Carl’s Jr.

One Is Healthier

If you’re looking to make a healthier choice with your food, Carl’s Jr. is going to be the place to go. The company’s western roots have caused it to develop a healthier menu. In general, the western portion of the country tends to emphasize fresh, light, and healthy eating choices.

Carl’s Jr. capitalizes on this to attract customers and offers a grilled chicken salad and even a plain salad with iceberg lettuce. You can also find fried zucchini and lettuce-wrapped burgers. This is very different from deep-fried southern comfort foods and sweet tea loaded with sugar. The only salad you’ll find on the Hardee’s menu is the taco salad.

West Coast Versus Southeast

While there’s no rivalry between these two siblings, there seems to be among some customers. When it comes to preference, which restaurant customers prefer typically boils down to where they live. 

If you’re in the southeast, you’re going to prefer Hardee’s over Carl’s Jr. If you’re out west, you’re going to prefer Carl’s Jr. Some customers can be rather vocal about their preferences, but like a good parent, CKE Restaurants loves them equally.

Pro Tip: Fast food fans will enjoy eating at The World’s Largest McDonald’s.

Satisfy Your Tastebuds, No Matter the Name

Now that your mouth is watering and your stomach is growling, it might be time to grab a bite to eat. If you’re near a Hardee’s or Carl’s Jr. location, it might be tempting to make a quick run and grab something off their menu. Your taste buds will surely be happy no matter which brand you choose.

What is your go to Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr order? Tell us in the comments!

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