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Carl Karcher, devout Catholic and founder of Carl's Jr. hamburger restaurant chain, dies

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (CNS) - Carl Nicholas Karcher, a Catholic entrepreneur who was founder and chairman emeritus of the popular Carl’s Jr. restaurant chain, died Jan. 11 at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 90.

Carl Karcher

Carl Karcher

Karcher was well known for his philanthropic work, including his donations to anti-abortion groups. He always encouraged others to become involved in the community.

A funeral Mass was to be celebrated Jan. 18 at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim. He was to be buried at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange Jan. 19.

“Carl was a pioneer in this industry, a devout Catholic and a loving family man. He touched countless lives through his generosity as a business leader and philanthropist, and his legacy will most certainly live on,” said Andrew F. Puzder, president and CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., the parent company of Carl’s Jr. restaurants.

Humble beginnings

Karcher started his business July 17, 1941, when he and his wife, Margaret, borrowed $311 on their Plymouth automobile and added $15 of their savings to purchase a hot dog cart in Los Angeles. The hot dog cart proved successful, and within a few years Karcher owned and operated four more stands there.

Four years later the Karchers moved to Anaheim and opened their first full-service restaurant, Carl’s Drive-In Barbeque. In 1956 Karcher launched the first two Carl’s Jr. restaurants in Anaheim and nearby Brea. They were given that name because they were smaller versions of the original drive-in restaurant.

In 1966 the company incorporated as Carl Karcher Enterprises Inc. and offered stock publicly for the first time in October 1981. In 1994 stockholders approved the structure of the company to include a new parent company, CKE Restaurants.

Today CKE Restaurants has a total of 3,036 franchised or company-operated restaurants --- 1,121 Carl’s Jr. restaurants and 1,915 Hardee’s restaurants --- in 43 states and 14 countries.

Chairman emeritus

In the mid-1980s, some of Karcher’s expansion plans failed and he weathered an insider-trading scandal. Disagreements with his board of directors led to his ouster as chairman of the board, but he later was made chairman emeritus. He retired in June 2004 but kept the emeritus title.

Karcher served on numerous boards for various charitable organizations, and throughout his lifetime received countless awards and honors, including the Horatio Alger Award, 1979; the Multi-Unit Food Service Operators’ Man of the Year and Golden Chain awards, 1983; and the Service Award from the Claire Burgener Foundation for the Developmentally Disabled, 1998.

He was inducted into the Knights of Malta. He also received the Pope John XXIII Award from the Italian Catholic Federation for “best exemplifying benevolent, philosophical and charitable principles.”

Twelve children, one a priest

Karcher was born Jan. 16, 1917, to Leo Alexander and Anna Maria (Kuntz) Karcher. The third of eight children, he was raised on a farm near Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and left school during the eighth grade to help on the family farm. Karcher moved to California in 1939.

He married Margaret (Heinz) Karcher Nov. 30, 1939. The orange grove on which Margaret was raised in Anaheim eventually became home to the corporate headquarters of Carl Karcher Enterprises Inc., and company offices still stand on the site.

Karcher’s wife of more than 66 years died from liver cancer June 6, 2006. Together the couple raised 12 children; their daughter Carleen died in 1993.

One of their sons, Father Jerome T. Karcher, is a priest of the Orange Diocese. Currently pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Huntington Beach, he is the founder of Mercy House, a support center serving homeless families in Orange County and the surrounding region.

According to the Mercy House Web site,, Father Karcher first began “reflecting seriously on the plight of the homeless” in 1988 while an associate pastor in Santa Ana. There he became more aware of the needs of both homeless and immigrant populations. He founded Mercy House that year and opened a residence offering transitional housing for homeless men.

“Father Jerome chose the name Mercy House to highlight the need that each person has for God’s mercy realizing ‘there go I but for the grace of God,’” the site notes.

The organization has expanded over the years, and offers several services, including affordable housing, and helps men, women and children in need.

In addition to Father Karcher, Carl Karcher is survived by two other sons, eight daughters, 51 grandchildren and 45 great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to: Mercy House, P.O. Box 1905, Santa Ana, CA 92702; or to: Providence Speech and Hearing Center, 1301 Providence Ave., Orange, CA 92868 (


Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops



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