SALT LAKE CITY — The humble Utah businessman who helped bring "finger-lickin' good" chicken to Utah and the world died at 95 on Wednesday.
Utah native Leon W. "Pete" Harman passed away early Wednesday morning, James D. Olson, CEO of Harman Management Corp., confirmed.
"Simply put, neither the Harman system nor the KFC brand would exist as we know them today without Pete's selfless leadership, commitment or passion," Olson said in a statement.
Harman will be remembered as "an innovator" throughout the company, Olson said, from his idea to package complete meals for families on the go to a business model that allowed management teams to own significant interests in the restaurants where they worked in order to share in the profits. He was known for heading back to introduce himself to the cooks as soon as he entered one of the restaurants.
Harman opened what would become the first Kentucky Fried Chicken at 3890 S. State in Murray in April 1952. It was there he began selling Colonel Harland Sanders' signature chicken by the bucket, launching the Colonel's initial success.
That Utah landmark was torn down in 2004 and a new restaurant built in its place.
"What really worked was the delightful labor force in Utah," he said at the time. "People believe in working, and they're friendly — that's the culture that got KFC off the ground and into the whole world."
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 Harmon, who already had six children.
Four years later, Pete's father died, and "Aunt Carrie" pulled the family together to make a living on the farm. Years later, Harman donated a building on the BYU campus named in her honor.
Harman met and married his wife, Arline Harman, while working in restaurants in San Francisco. The couple moved to Salt Lake City in 1941 and opened their first restaurant together, the "Do Drop Inn." They met Sanders at a restaurant convention in Chicago in 1951. The rest is history, recounted in the book "Secret Recipe."
Pete and Arline Harman relocated to Los Altos, California, in the 1960s, where they established their business headquarters. Arline Harmon died in January 2013 just before her 97th birthday.
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