Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Farewell to a Famous Star

Last week the world lost an historic figure, a man whose celebrated achievement awed both those within his field and the millions who preferred to leave moon shots of that sort to the brave hearts who push on despite chilling risk. The heights he scaled would forever command wonder and respect, and, though thousands would follow in his footsteps, he would forever stand out for being at the forefront. Oh, and by the way: Edmund Hillary died.

I was speaking of Carl Karcher, the legendary entrepreneur who gave his name to the Carl’s Jr. regional burger chain. Those within the business know him as a character right out of Horatio Algier, a John Wayne-sized self-starter who borrowed $311 against his Plymouth to buy a hotdog cart and parlayed it into a fast-food empire. Those who’ve been in the trade for awhile would remember him as the basis for a cartoon Carl who appeared in his namesake chain’s commercials, holding the hand of the brand’s star-shaped mascot. It didn’t seem like such a whimsical take-off to those who’d see him at industry conferences, warmly responding to anyone who wanted to meet this industry legend, then slipping each of them—be it a CEO or a server working the banquet—a coupon for a free Famous Star burger.

But those who’ve only been on the customer’s side of a quick-service counter may not realize that Karcher was an American pioneer, on par with such business giants and restaurant-industry founding fathers as J. Willard Marriott, Ray Kroc, Col. Sanders, Norman Brinker or Bob Wian, a.k.a. the Bob of Bob’s Big Boy. His death late last week, just six days shy of his 91st birthday, was like the loss of Walt Disney or Babe Ruth—something far more than just the ending of an extraordinary life. He embodied a time and a dynamic that still seem to amaze and inspire us.

He was a giant of a man, literally and figuratively. Fortunately, his legacy is in proportion.

1 comment:

  1. I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Karcher over the years. I always looked up to him, not because of his size but because of the man he was. Rest in Peace.