Pete Harman: Mormon Businessman
Leon Weston “Pete” Harman was an American businessman and restaurateur known for his collaboration with Colonel Harland Sanders to open the first Kentucky Fried Chicken (now KFC) franchise.
Harman was born January 16, 1919, in Granger, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. He was the youngest of fourteen children born to David and Grace May Harman. His mother died a few days after his birth and his father died five years later. His widowed aunt Caroline Hemenway Harman reared him and many of his siblings. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In 1941, Harman and his wife, Arline, opened their first restaurant, the Do Drop In. They later changed the name to Harman Café. Sanders owned a small Kentucky restaurant called Sanders Café. Harman and Colonel Sanders met in 1951 at the National Restaurant Association convention in Chicago. Sanders was on his way to a Christian retreat in Australia when he stopped in Salt Lake to visit Harman in 1952. The Harmans invited Sanders to dinner at a restaurant in Millcreek Canyon. But Sanders wanted the Harmans to taste his fried chicken, hoping that they would agree to serve the chicken in their restaurant. So the Harmans gathered the necessary chickens, pressure cooker, and eleven herbs and spices behind the Colonel’s secret recipe, and Sanders cooked for them.
The next day, Sanders traveled on to Australia and Harman put the Colonel’s fried chicken on the menu of his restaurant. Harman decided to call it Kentucky Fried Chicken after the Colonel’s home state.
When Sanders stopped by two weeks later on his way home from Australia, he was stunned to find cars lined up the street to taste his chicken. Harman’s Café, at the corner of 3900 South and State Street in Salt Lake City became the world’s first KFC franchise. In 2004, the original building was demolished and an updated restaurant that includes a museum stands in its place. The Harman family operates every KFC franchise in the state of Utah. They also own and operate franchises in California, Nevada, and Washington.
Harman worked with Sanders to develop Kentucky Fried Chicken for franchising. He developed the bucket packaging and emphasized the motto “finger-lickin’ good.” He helped develop training manuals and product guides. Harman inspired Sanders to franchise his fried chicken throughout the United States and ultimately the world. Harman and Sanders remained friends until the Colonel’s death in 1980.
Harman was also a philanthropist and donated to various organizations, including Brigham Young University. In the early 1980s, BYU wanted to name the new continuing education building after him. He insisted that they honor his aunt who reared him.
In 1990 the International Foodservice Manufacturer Association recognized Harman with its Gold Plate Award. Harman and his wife retired to California. He died on November 19, 2014.
He wrote ’Secret Recipe: Why KFC Is Still Cookin’ After 50 Years in 2002.