Thursday, August 2, 2012

Harmons and the KFC Connection

Randy and Bob Harmon of Harmons grocery stores.

For years, I've wanted to ask Bob and Randy Harmon about their curious name change. And last week, I finally got the chance.
Back in 1999, I interviewed Pete Harman, the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee who helped Colonel Sanders build his recipe into a worldwide brand. He opened the first KFC on 3890 S. State (it's still there, although it's been remodeled quite a bit since 1952).  Today, the Harmans Corporation owns over 300 KFCs in the western states.
During that interview, Pete told me his brother, Jake, was the founder of Harmons.
Colonel Sanders and Pete Harman statue, at 3890 S. State, Salt Lake.
 "So why are your last  names spelled differently?" I asked.
Pete told me that back in the early days of his business, Jake ordered an expensive sign for his new store. When it arrived, the name was misspelled, and the cost to correct it was prohibitive. At the time, it seemed easier to change the name than the sign.
"That's one version of the story," said Randy Harmon, when I related it to him last week. "Another version is that Jake and Irene's marriage license was spelled with an 'o' instead of an 'a,' and it was going to cost a lot to correct it."
"So that tells you something about who my grandfather was," Bob Harmon said, noting that when he was starting out in business, the country was struggling through the Depression era, and money was tight. "Family name meant a great deal to him, but at the end of the day, he was trying to make a go of it, and it was important to get his business started."
This was a really big family, and they grew up learning to work hard. Pete Harman was born in Granger, which is now part of West Valley City. His mother, Grace, died of pneumonia two days later, leaving his father with nine children. A year later, Pete's father married his brother's widow, Caroline Hemenway Harman, who already had six children. Four years later, Pete's father died, and "Aunt Carrie" pulled the family of 15 children together to make a living on the farm. (Years later, Pete Harman donated a building on the Brigham Young University campus named in her honor.)
Bob and Randy told me that a couple of the older siblings also went with the "o" spellings, while the younger ones stuck with the "a" spelling.  

For those who are wondering, Pete Harman is still alive. The Harmon brothers said Pete is living in a nursing home in California. 

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