Carl N. Karcher, who parlayed a $325 (Dh1,186) investment in a hot-dog cart into one of the largest hamburger chains in the western United States, died on Friday. He was 90.
The founder of the Carl's Jr. fast-food chain suffered from Parkinson's disease and was being treated for pneumonia when he died at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, said Beth Mansfield, a spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants Inc.
Karcher, a deeply religious father of 12, was famous in the fast-food industry for his rags-to-riches story – a tale that was tainted in later years by an insider trading scandal and feuds with his board of directors that led to his eventual demise as chief executive officer.
Karcher was working as a bread-truck driver in South Los Angeles when he noticed the large number of hot dog stands in the neighborhood and saw a business opportunity.
He borrowed $311 (Dh1,135) on the 1941 Plymouth Super Deluxe he owned with his new bride, Margaret, added the rest in cash and bought his first pushcart hot dog stand.
One cart soon became four, and by the end of World War II Karcher had opened his first restaurant, Carl's Drive-In barbecue, in Anaheim, California.
He opened the first Carl's Jr. – named "Jr." to distinguish it from his full-service eatery – in 1956.
"With the help and support of my wife and children, my faith in God, my good health, my belief in the free enterprise system, and my willingness to work hard, there was no way I could have failed," he wrote in his 1991 autobiography, "Never Stop Dreaming."
Karcher's initial success began to show cracks in the 1980s when he took the company public. Carl's Jr. locations in Texas and Arizona failed, ending his dream of becoming a national chain.
In 1989, Karcher and his family agreed to a $664,000 (Dh2.4 million) settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission after the agency alleged Karcher told six family members to sell stock ahead of an announcement that company profits would plummet by 50 per cent.
In 1993, after increasingly bitter feuds with his board of directors and crippling personal financial losses, the 76-year-old founder was ousted as the company's CEO.
Today, Carl's Jr. has more than 1,000 locations across the West; its parent company, the Carpenteria, California-based CKE Enterprises Inc., made $1.52 billion (Dh5.5 billion) in sales in 2006 and had 29,000 employees.
CKE also owns the Hardee's, La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill and Green Burrito chains.
Karcher is survived by 11 children, 51 grandchildren and 39 great-grandchildren. (AP)
Carl's Jr. restaurant founder dead at 90