DARE TO DREAM BIG!: From Service Station Operator to Creator of Fast-Food Empire

Imagine This: At age sixty-five, people tell you that you’re too old to start a new business. You have a recipe for fried chicken, and for two years, you travel across the country trying to sell franchises for your recipe. But no one wants to buy it and your secret chicken recipe is rejected 1,009 times.

You’re born in Henryville, Indiana, the oldest of three children. Your father dies when you’re six and you take care of your younger brother and sister while your mother works at the tomato canning factory three miles away.

Even at this young age, you do a lot of the cooking and quickly master many regional recipes to the delight of your family. During this time, you not only develop an independent spirit but also a passion for cooking.

You hold your first job at age ten, working and living at a nearby farm, but you’re fired after only a month because you spend too much of your time enjoying the squirrels and butterflies and not enough time working. You know that losing your job has disappointed your mother, and you vow to make something of yourself and become someone she’ll be proud of.

When you’re twelve, your mother remarries and moves to Greenwood, Indiana, in order to improve the family’s financial situation. But you don’t get along with your abusive stepfather, so you move back home to Henryville where you work as a farmhand.

You work odd jobs as a streetcar conductor, a blacksmith’s helper, a railroad fireman, an insurance salesman, and finally as a service station operator in Nicholasville, Kentucky. You do such a good job running the Nicholasville service station that the Shell Oil Company offers to build a service station for you in Corbin, Kentucky, and charge you no rent at all.

In 1930, in the midst of the depression, you open your first restaurant in the small front room of the gas station in Corbin. It’s actually a fifteen foot square storage room with one table and six chairs, and you are the station operator, chief cook, and cashier.

You specialize in southern cooking and everybody eats together—-truck drivers, tourists, and salesmen—-all at the same table family-style.

Word spreads about the homey atmosphere and the good food at your café and in 1935 Governor Ruby Laffoon gives you the title “Kentucky Colonel.”

Your restaurant flourishes and in 1950 you add another herb to your chicken recipe which you’ve never used before. You know that now you finally have the perfect combination of eleven spices and herbs.

In 1956, however, a new highway is built which bypasses the whole city of Corbin which drastically reduces your restaurant’s customer traffic. You end up having to auction off your property to pay your debts, and at the age of sixty-five, you’re virtually broke.

For two years, you travel the country cooking batches of chicken for restaurant owners and their employees using your secret recipe, but no one is interested in buying franchises for your chicken.

Your secret recipe is rejected 1,009 times, but you refuse to give up. By 1960, all your hard work begins to pay off and you have sold 400 franchises in the United States. And by 1964 there are more than 600 franchises.

By 1979, there are 6000 KFC restaurants worldwide with sales of more than $2 billion annually and today KFC has more than nine thousand KFC restaurants in eighty-six countries. And you are remembered as a man of vision and imagination who created a fast-food empire which symbolizes quality in the food industry.

“Feed the poor and get rich or feed the rich and get poor.”

Colonel Sanders (1890-1980)


For More about Colonel Sanders:

Giving Back: Colonel Sanders believed strongly in “giving back” and helping others and established the Harland Sanders Charitable Foundation which continues to donate generously to innumerable charitable organizations from churches to hospitals to colleges.

 Did You Know that the Colonel’s secret recipe for his KFC chicken is kept in a safe in Louisville, KY, and that security precautions protecting the recipe would make even James Bond proud?

 Something to Think about: Why do you think Colonel Sanders never gave up believing in his recipe even after hundreds of people rejected it?


Willoughby and I hope you enjoyed this week’s true story and will be back next week for another story to inspire you to DARE TO DREAM BIG!




68 replies
  1. Paul Morin
    Paul Morin says:

    Love this post, Sandra! The story of Colonel Sanders is very inspirational! I think it’s a great one for teaching kids and adults alike to take a second look at their definition of “failure”. When you have a vision or dream and you are fully committed to it, there is very little that can stop you from making it happen. When obstacles pop up, you find a way over, under, around or through them. Keep up the great work you do to inspire kids (and others) to be all that they can be. Paul

    • Sandra
      Sandra says:

      Thanks, Paul, and that’s actually the title of my next book–Failure Isn’t Final!: 25 Men and Women Who Never Gave Up.
      Thanks for your comment and please stop by again!

  2. James St. John
    James St. John says:

    You’ve hit another home run with this post Sandra. You cannot help but love Colonel Sanders. I visited the “original” KFC in Corbin a few years ago. I’ve eaten KFC (including the chicken feet) in Beijing, China. I guess you could say I have followed the Colonel around the world.

    He was a man with a passion for his product, certainly. That passion translated into a willingness to put himself on the line, having been rejected so many times. His perseverance and passion serve as an inspiration, as does his desire to help others.

    Anyway, thanks for another great inspirational post. It blessed me every week to read them.

  3. Lanre
    Lanre says:

    I guess Colonel Sanders never stopped trying because he saw the future in his chicken which many rejected. His story is a perfect example of someone whose dictionary has nothing like ‘quitting’ in it. Like the Colonel, we must never stop driving on the road to fulfilling our dreams. That extra mile could just be our breakthrough. Really inspiring.

  4. Alex
    Alex says:

    Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog.

    Best regards Alex

  5. Michael Charney
    Michael Charney says:

    I’ve always loved the Col. Sanders story, and you tell it very well. It is our generation’s Horatio Alger tale.

    Just this last summer I took a driving trip across Kentucky, including a stop in Corbin!

  6. Angela
    Angela says:

    What an inspiring story! I didn’t know this about the Colonel. As a child, Kentucky Fried Chicken was a treat; we would pick up snack packs each and my parents would drive to a park by lake and we would enjoy our chicken and fries. I’m so glad that Colonel Sanders didn’t give up on his dream, because he helped to create fond members with my family. Thanks Sandra for a great read!

  7. Alexis
    Alexis says:

    Wow, what an inspiration. To be rejected over 1,000 times?! That is the definition of “never give up”. That shows the depths in which he truly believed in himself and what he was doing no matter what as many as 1,000 people said! That’s incredible. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Jennifer Ward-Pelar
    Jennifer Ward-Pelar says:

    What a great message. It’s like that with us aspiring authors too. Rejection after rejection. But giving up is not an option! I’m from Louisville, KY so I was thrilled to see a “familiar” face on here! And I did not know the secret recipe was still so preciously preserved. You learn something new every day! Thanks for visiting my blog! Your website is inspirational. :)

    • Sandra
      Sandra says:

      He was so careful with his recipe that no one person, other than him, ever combined all the ingredients. Each person was given only a few of the ingredients but never all of them. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you stop by again!

  9. Marcia Clarke
    Marcia Clarke says:

    Great way to tell a story about someone you think you already know enough of; I especially liked the never too old to try something new, we all have to understand rejection is just part of life. My new motto? “Feel the fear and do it anyway!” Great post.

  10. C. Lee McKenzie
    C. Lee McKenzie says:

    I read his story and was very impressed by the man. If I’m not mistaken he was taken advantage of later by some corporate sweet talk. Can’t remember the details, but as I recall he wound up with little or nothing after all that persistence and hard work.

    Still his example is one we should look to as writers . . as anyone dealing with rejections and odds against us.

    Thanks for the post. I’m stopping in from the campaign to say hi!

    • Sandra
      Sandra says:

      I don’t think it’s so much that he was exploited financially as that he experienced a great personal loss when he sold his company–much like mourning the loss of a child, I would think. Financially, he did well enough to be able to continue his very generous philanthropic contributions to the end of his life. Thanks for your comments and please stop by again!

  11. Jermaine Donaldson
    Jermaine Donaldson says:

    Anybody who gets rich selling fried chicken (that is delicious) to the masses deserves to be idolized. Thanks for a powerful story that shows so much more of the depth and desire that generated the successful empire known as KFC.

  12. Mojo
    Mojo says:

    There are two things I love dearly in this world – actually, because I am a very fortunate human being, there are far more than that, but two will suffice for this comment.

    The first is anecdotes that deal with the familiar from an unfamiliar or illuminating angle. I knew almost immediately who was being discussed here, but still learned plenty along the way.

    The second is stories of inspiration that impart a useful and valuable moral to the reader. In these dispiriting days, when so many around us offer reasons to lose hope, the service blogs like this perform is inestimable.

    On both counts, thanks for this.

    • Sandra
      Sandra says:

      They say that attitude is everything and he definitely had the right attitude (not to mention perseverance). Thanks for your comment and please stop by again!

  13. Christine
    Christine says:

    Another great inspirational story. It just goes to show you that you are never too old to dream!
    Thanks for sharing this and for continuing to inspire our young people and ALL people….


  14. Isra
    Isra says:

    Sandra, are you serious. his recipe was rejected 1009 times!!! What an inspiration really. I get upset if I get rejected once or twice, wonderful post, love your blog!

  15. Mike Maynard
    Mike Maynard says:

    I’ve been writing more since they told me to retire! lol I have time to do everything I wanted to do for years, now. It helps to keep me young too, people often think I’m much younger than I actually am!

    • Sandra
      Sandra says:

      I can understand that– I think when you’re doing what you love, it takes some of the years off and keeps you thinking and feeling younger. Thanks for stopping by again!

  16. Nomita
    Nomita says:

    Very inspiring. I do think that most people who succeed have failed many times but have never given up. But of course it’s also a lot about believing in yourself and your idea. I didn’t know the story of Colonel Sanders but I’m glad I do now… quite unbelievable to be rejected 1009 times. Takes something special to keep going.

    • Sandra
      Sandra says:

      I’ve read that the people who are the most successful are frequently also the ones who have failed the most times–definitely something to keep in mind when we’re thinking of giving up! Thanks for your comment and please stop by again!

  17. Susan Fleet
    Susan Fleet says:

    What a great post, Sandra, and so appropriate for the Blog Action Day topic: Food. The Colonel’s story is very inspiring. Why did he keep believing after so much rejection? He had a dream and he didn’t let the obstacles he encountered along the way stop him. My trumpet idol, Edna White, played a “farewell recital” in Carnegie Hall in 1957 at the age of 65, and later said in an essay “The Golden Years” I REFUSE TO BE A PART OF THIS PICTURE. And she did not. Like The Colonel, she kept working, went on to compose a Suite for Trumpet & Orchestra, and published a book about her vaudeville experiences at the age of 98!

    You can read about her and her remarkable career in my Archives.

    Thanks for the terrific post, Sandra … I’ll be back!

    • Sandra
      Sandra says:

      I just read her bio–what an amazing woman and what an extensive biography. I love to read about individuals who set their own course and follow their own dreams! Thanks so much for sharing her biography with us and I’m glad you’ll be stopping by again!

  18. Pranay Nigotiya
    Pranay Nigotiya says:

    Hi Sandra, really liked this post. Colonel Sanders is very inspirational and great to read. though i have not had at KFC being a vegetarian but have heard good things about it. I think all adults and young people can look upto him for lessons in life.

  19. PK Hrezo
    PK Hrezo says:

    I love these stories. They remind me to defy the odds and believe in what I do, regardless what people say. In answer to your question on what the term “beta” means… it refers to the first readers of your story who are there to test the waters, so to speak. Beta readers aren’t there to necessarily critique the writing, altho there are no hard and fast rules to what betas do, but they are more there to sample the story and offer suggestions and/or feedback on what they think works or doesn’t work for the story. For me, betas and critique partners are pretty much the same thing and I consider myself both when I give feedback. But if someone is looking for merely a beta reader, they want someone to give them feedback on the actual story.

  20. Eura Heade
    Eura Heade says:

    I have to say, youve got one with the very best blogs Ive observed in a long time. What I wouldnt give to be able to make a weblog thats as fascinating as this. I guess Ill just need to maintain reading yours and hope that one day I can write on a subject with as much information as youve got on this one!


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