Colonel Harland Sanders Museum & Café: The Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken – Corbin, Kentucky

Colonel Harland Sanders Museum & Café: The Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken – Corbin, Kentucky

Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 6Metro Detroit vacationers heading south via I-75: enhance your trip and ease the monotony of a sixteen to twenty hour drive with a quick stop at the Colonel Harland Sanders Museum & Café in Corbin, Kentucky. Also known as the “Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken”, this quaint little tourist trap is a mere three mile detour off the freeway and will afford you not only the opportunity to learn more about this long respected inspiration to senior Americans, but also the chance to get a nice, hot bucket of the mouth watering Original Recipe and, of course, relieve yourself.

Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 9There are two ways to get there from I-75. Route #1 (coming from the north): Take exit 29, go south on Cumberland Gap Parkway (US-25E) for approximately one and a half miles then turn right onto West Dixie Highway. Go about one half mile. Sanders Cafe will be on your left. Route #2 (coming from the south): Take exit 25, go north on Cumberland Falls Highway (US-25W) for approximately 2 miles, then turn left onto Main Street. Go about one mile on Main Street. Follow Main Street to the right as it turns into East Master Street, and then turn left to stay on US-25W immediately after crossing the bridge over the railroad tracks. Follow US-25W roughly one more mile. Sanders Cafe will be on the right.

We won’t bother with a lot of unnecessary banter here, as the numerous historical markers and informative plaques found inside and out of the museum best relate the details of Sander’s life and restauranting success. Enjoy.

Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 1The Kentucky State Historical Marker directly in front of the Museum, reads verbatim: “BIRTH OF A LEGENDKENTUCKY’S MOST FAMOUS CITIZEN – Colonel Harland Sanders began the part of his life that brought him fame in a small gasoline service station on the opposite side of this highway. Born on September 9, 1890, near Henryville, Indiana, he left school at twelve to support his family. He held a wide variety of jobs as Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 2farmhand, soldier, railroader, secretary, insurance salesman and ferryboat operator until 1930 when he came to Corbin, moved his family into quarters behind the station and started pumping gasoline. This was then a main route to Florida from the north. Traffic slowed during the Great Depression so Sanders, who enjoyed cooking, augmented his meager income by selling meals to tourists. His food was liked. His reputation grew and his career as a restauranteur began. (See other side) BIRTHPLACE OF KENTUCKY Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 12FRIED CHICKEN – In 1932 Colonel Harland Sanders bought the small restaurant near this site. Here he combined good cooking, hard work and showmanship to build regional fame for his fine food. His restaurant and a motel, now gone, flourished. To serve his patrons better Sanders constantly experimented with new recipes and cooking methods. Here he created, developed and perfected his world famous Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe. In 1956 plans were announced for a Federal highway to by-pass Corbin. Threatened with the traffic loss, Sanders, then 66, and undaunted, sold the restaurant and started travelling America selling seasoning and his recipe for fried chicken to other restaurants. His success in this effort began the world’s largest commercial food service and made Kentucky a household word around the world. Presented by the innumerable friends of Kentucky’s greatest goodwill ambassador

Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 10Plaque #1, found inside the Museum/Café, reads: “WHERE IT ALL BEGAN – America in the 1930’s was a society in love with the automobile and the freedom of travel it provided. Harland Sanders recognized the opportunity to meet the growing demand for gasoline, food, and lodging along the side of the nation’s highways. In 1930 he came to Corbin, Kentucky and went into the service station business selling Shell Oil products on U.S. Highway 25. The ‘Dixie Highway’, as it was known, was a major thoroughfare from as far north as Cleveland to as far south as Miami. In 1931 he crossed the highway and leased the service station of competitor Ancil McVay. He sold Gulf Oil products for a time before entering into a long-term arrangement with the Pure Oil Company. He expanded what had already become a bustling lunch trade and started cooking three meals a day for the traveling public. A prospering cafe business encouraged him to look at another opportunity — lodging. By 1937 he was operating one of Corbin’s first motor court and cafe complexes which he boasted was ‘known from Canada to Cuba’. Tourist trade was a leading component of the local economy. Cumberland Falls was a major attraction and enticed many travelers to spend the night. It was in this economic and social environment that Harland Sanders developed a secret recipe for fried chicken which would make him, the town, and the state where he created it world famous.”

Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 7Plaque #2, found inside the Museum/Café, reads: “SANDERS COURT & CAFE – On July 4, 1940, the Harland Sanders Cafe you see today reopened after a disastrous fire destroyed it in 1939. Adjacent Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 4were seventeen motel rooms and a Pure Oil service station. Business was brisk until the onset of World War II when rationing of war materials kept use of the automobile to a minimum. Tourist traffic increased after the war. Canvas awnings gave way to metal awnings, and a large neon sign appeared. The Colonel was renowned for his country ham, Kentucky biscuits, chess pie, buckwheat cakes, mock oysters, pecan pie, and other southern dishes. By 1952, his secret recipe for fried chicken was perfected, and that dish became the centerpiece of his menu. In 1952, Colonel Sanders entered into his first franchise agreement with Pete Harman, a young restaurant owner from Salt Lake City, Utah. Operating from his Corbin cafe, the Colonel mixed and shipped packages of his secret ingredients to a few carefully chosen franchisees, who purchased the seasoning and paid him a royalty of five cents for every chicken sold. The opening of Interstate 75 drastically affected his restaurant and motel business. In 1956, at age sixty-five, he sold his cafe and court for just enough to pay his debts and taxes. With only his Social Security income of $105.00 per month to sustain him, he started anew and began to build a new business based on his franchise concept.”

Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 8Plaque #3, found inside the Museum/Café, reads: “IMAGES OF COLONEL HARLAND SANDERS – In his lifetime Harland Sanders was many things including a soldier, ferry boat captain, insurance salesman, railroad laborer, tire salesman, service station operator, innkeeper, restauranteur, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. To each of these roles he applied the relentless energy and determination which characterized his entire life. Though designated a Kentucky Colonel in 1935, he did not begin to develop that image until the late 1940’s. To most Americans, he was the kindly southern gentleman seen on countless billboards, newspaper ads, television commercials, and packaging for his products. In his white suit with string tie and cane, he personified and promoted the time-honored ideals of goodness, cleanliness, honesty, hospitality, and hard work. His success is attributable as much to his belief in those values as his marketing genius. So successful was he, that even today, Colonel Harland Sanders’ face is recognized by 98% of the American population. After creating an exceptional product and developing a unique image, he was able to build a business which started in one cafe in Corbin, Kentucky, and today has eight thousand outlets across the United States and the world.”

Harland Sanders Museum and Cafe 11And finally, plaque #4, found inside the Museum/Café, imparts what we consider to be some timeless wisdom; a condensation of the Colonel’s business and life philosophies, we assume, with an unexpected lesson in archaic conjugations to boot: “The HARD Way: It is comparatively easy to prosper by trickery, the violation of confidence, oppression of the weak, sharp practices, cutting corners – all of those methods that we are so prone to palliate and condone as ‘business shrewdness.’ It is difficult to prosper by the keeping of promises, the deliverance of value in goods, in services and in deeds – and in the meeting of so-called ‘shrewdness’ with sound merit and good ethics. The easy way is efficacious and speedy – the hard way arduous and long. But, as the clock ticks, the easy way becomes harder and the hard way becomes easier. And as the calendar records the years, it becomes increasingly evident that the easy way rests hazardously upon shifting sands, whereas the hard way builds solidly a foundation of confidence that cannot be swept away. Thus we builded.* – SANDERS COURTS AND CAFES – ASHEVILLE, N.C., 6 miles out on Knoxville Road – CORBIN, KENTUCKY, Junction U.S. 25-25E-25W – *Dictionary: Present participle and verbal noun. To fashion or frame according to a systematic plan or by a definite process; to create; to BUILD a reputation.” ~I♥DM

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Dale Carlson

Dale Carlson grew up along the northeastern shores of Lake Michigan, where at a young age Detroit called out to him in his dreams. In 2008, after extended stays in ten different Michigan cities, the author settled permanently in southeast Oakland County where he currently lives and works in various capacities within the local real estate industry.