Why Hardee's And Carl's Jr. Have Different Names

Under one grinning star logo sits two major fast food chains.

Both Hardee's and Carl's Jr. offer charbroiled burgers called the Famous Star and the Super Star. The two brands sport the same smiling star logo. And despite being two different establishments, the websites are identical. Are these two restaurants the same thing, just with different names? It's a little more complicated than that: The long-running fast food chains have a shared history, some overlapping business deals, and a dual desire for individuality.

A brief history of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

Originally, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. began as completely separate businesses on opposite ends of the country. Carl's Jr. got its start on the West Coast in 1941 as a hot dog cart purchased by Carl Karcher and his wife Margaret. Eventually the business grew, and its owner was able to open two restaurant locations; at this point, in the 1950s, the star logo was first introduced. (It later had a smiling face added.) But these were large-format restaurants—the shrunken-down fast food joint we know today has the name "Carl's Jr." to indicate that it's smaller than the original.

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About two decades after Carl's hot dog cart got started, the first Hardee's opened its doors in North Carolina. Established in 1960 by Wilber Hardee, the restaurant had a menu of 15-cent hamburgers, 10-cent fries, and 20-cent milkshakes. The brand started franchising almost immediately, and within its first 10 years of operation, Hardee's had more than 200 locations. Carl's Jr., by contrast, operated 24 locations at that time.

Although the expansion of Carl's Jr. might have been slow compared to Hardee's initial growth spurt, the former company built a strong foundation on the West Coast throughout the 1970s and '80s. By 1977, Carl's Jr. had more than 200 locations throughout California, and by the end of the 1980s had opened locations in Las Vegas and Mexico and increased its total footprint to 534 restaurants.

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As the Carl's Jr. empire grew, it became Carl Karcher Enterprises, or CKE. In 1997, CKE acquired Hardee's, which had reached a restaurant count of more than 3,000 locations. The merger of these two burger chains created a restaurant system of 3,828 restaurants across 40 states and 10 countries.

How Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. merged into one brand (kind of)

Blending these two distinct fast food brands together took time. CKE didn't want to scare off Hardee's customers by immediately changing its menu offerings to match those of Carl's Jr. The company slowly started introducing Carl's Jr. menu items at Hardee's locations in the early 2000s, then updated the interior design and signage of existing restaurants to fall in line with Carl's Jr. branding, Mental Floss explains. This is also about the time that the star logo became part of both chains' marketing. (Hardee's had previously used a stylized form of its own name as its logo.)

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Although there have been many efforts over the past 27 years to unite the chains, over time these restaurants have placed a renewed focus on differentiating themselves from one another in key ways. In 2018, Carl's Jr. launched a campaign called The Call of Carl's, which was exclusive to the brand alone and its first effort to separate from Hardee's in over 20 years, Nation's Restaurant News reported at the time.

"We're evolving the brand in a number of ways," Jason Marker, CEO of CKE, told NRN at the time. "And probably the single biggest thing since I've come on board have been the separation of two brands, and believing there are two distinct voices for the restaurants."

Last month, Carl's Jr. offered free Western Bacon Cheeseburgers to its loyalty program members. This was another attempt to separate the burger chain from its sibling, since Hardee's doesn't offer that menu item and is instead promoting a Philly Cheesesteak Angus Burger right now. And while both chains proudly serve breakfast, Hardee's has a more Midwest/Southeast lineup of biscuit sandwiches while Carl's Jr. places more emphasis on its breakfast burritos.

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This is all very similar to the history of Checkers and Rally's, which also share a menu and overall design scheme while keeping their individual names. A name, after all, is at the core of any brand's identity.

"The company has no plans in place to rebrand under one name," a spokesperson for Checkers & Rally's told The Takeout in 2022. "They continue to witness strong customer loyalty to each brand name as they expand across the East and West Coast."

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