My Pilgrimage To The Birthplace Of KFC In Corbin, KY
My Pilgrimage To The Birthplace Of KFC In Corbin, KY
“I’m going to Corbin, Kentucky – the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken.” As soon as those words left my mouth, there was an understanding between me and my friend, Danielle, that this was something important. Anyone who really knew me would know this too.
I was in Cincinnati, Ohio to shoot her wedding and while we were discussing random things that I could do in city, she suggested I run to Kentucky. “Run over?”
It turned out to be only a couple of miles, but I was indeed in Kentucky, which prompted me to pull up Google Maps. At that precise moment, the first thought that popped into my mind was Kentucky Fried Chicken. The next thought was how embarrassing it was I didn’t know the name of the town where Harland Sanders first started cooking his famous fried chicken. To be clear, I also know that the first KFC was opened in Utah and not Kentucky.
A More Simple Time
I’m not sure exactly when Kentucky Fried Chicken starting meaning so much to me, but I know that I’ve enjoyed it for most of my life. Growing up, my siblings and I mostly ate my mom’s cooking and our idea of eating out was either McDonalds, Burger King, Hot Dog on a Stick or KFC.
That’s what we could afford and amongst all the fast food chains, Hot Dog on a Stick was a solid contender for the top spot, but KFC was always my favorite.
The savory southern fried chicken, the smooth combination of mashed potato and gravy and that sweet coleslaw. When we’d lift the lid off the bucket, I’d reach right for the first drumstick I could find and then I’d split a warm biscuit right down in half and alternate between a mouthful of each.
Next, I’d pull the plastic lid off the mashed potatoes, lick the bits stuck to it and then release a spoonful to dip into the delicious brown gravy. These were some of my earliest happy thoughts as child and an enduring memory of growing up. Financially, we didn’t have much when we first arrived in America, but I never felt like anything was missing and my mom always bought us what we wanted to eat.
Paying My Respects To The 11 Secrets Herbs & Spices
Even as my tastes have developed over the years, I still enjoy random things from my childhood like Eggo waffles, Velvetta “cheese” and of course KFC. I don’t eat it nearly as much anymore (the downside to eating healthy), but being in Kentucky, it was important to me to pay my respects to the Colonel.
So flash forward to the day after Danielle’s wedding and I’ve rented a car to make the 2 hours and 20 minutes drive to Corbin, KY. I had a vague idea of what to expect, for better or worse, thanks to the internet, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be anything extraordinary, but that wasn’t going to change anything.
Driving down the small neighborhood streets into Corbin, the lack of a build up leading to the parking lot only made the arrival more special. There stood a renovated building that stood where the old Sanders Cafe used to be, with a completely modern KFC attached right next to the “museum”.
What structure I saw before my eye had little to do with my excitement, as was the case with most heritage sites: Stonehenge, the Hagia Sophia, or the temple at Luxor (am I actually comparing KFC to these places?). It wasn’t the buildings or the physical ruins that captivated my interest – it was the pure idea that I was standing in the same place where some significant historical event had unfolded. And standing there, I let my imagination transport me back decades, to imagine how everything got started here.
The House The Colonel Built
So here I am, 142 minutes of driving later, standing outside the old Sanders Cafe and Motor Court. This was where he did it. This was where that delicious chicken from my childhood was first conceived in 1930 when Harland Sanders started serving food out of his service station in Corbin.
Long before KFC was conceived, this entrepreneur was already perfecting his “secret recipe” and the way he cooked his chicken here. That first franchise wouldn’t open for another 32 years and it would be opened in Utah of all places, but that didn’t matter. Corbin was the special place and the one that mattered for me.
Stepping in, I am greeted by the Colonel and a perfectly modern KFC.
Please don’t ask me why that guy’s shorts are wet in the butt. To the right of the counter was a mini museum with memorabilia from the Colonel’s story. Old pictures, signs, menus, pictures, newspaper clippings, buttons. It was interesting to see some of their old marketing materials. And look at the prices. $4.95 for 21 pieces of chicken? Yes, please!
I would love to get myself one of the original Mirro-Matic pressure cooker he used to cook his chicken, if it was for sale and not just a relic of history. This was a genius of a thing at the time, because it allowed Harland to cook up his fried chicken a lot faster than pan frying. How else can you make freshly fried chicken a fast food item? It’s also why the chicken is so moist.
I am pleasantly surprised to see the Colonel’s book, “Life as I have know it has been finger lickin’ good.” I have the same book sitting on my shelf at home and its awesome. I love seeing the most random things that survive the passage of time, like the recent acquisition of an unused KFC napkin from the 60’s and whatever the hell that is to the top right of the picture below.
Chicken & A Place To Sleep
The other half of the rebuilt restaurant showed the restaurant the way it used to be with a replica of this office, kitchen and model motel room. Oh, to be able to travel back in time and be just another guest at this small unassuming road side motel. To follow the waft of chicken and those herbs and spices, and walk up to Mr. Sanders, asking, “whatcha got cookin’?”
According to the sign, the Colonel was pretty creative with his marketing. Since he had an adjoining motel next to the Cafe, he promoted it by including an entire model room in the cafe so that his customers could check it out while they were dining. Clever one.
Finger Lickin’ Good
With my “tour” complete, it was time to eat. I was starving, so I ordered a 7 piece meal. All original recipe. Biscuits, mashed potatoes and cole slaw. Of course. If you’re going to do something, do it right.
It all comes out so modern looking and I am secretly a little disappointed. But look at how happy I am with the bucket of chicken and happy childhood memories in my hands.
And with that I checked another item off my bucket list. I’ll always look back on this day with fond memories and perhaps I’ll return one day and share this with my own kids. Until then, goodbye Corbin, Kentucky.
I’ve since made a trip to the first true KFC that was opened in Salt Lake City, Utah, but for me, Corbin is the birthplace of KFC.
Updated on October 24, 2023