The Southern Fried Chicken Chain That Almost Tasted Greatness

Restaurant chains love celebrity endorsements, and the 2020s have kicked off with a slew of them. Anyone who's turned their eyes toward a television set in the past few years has likely seen McDonald's promoting limited-edition meals created in partnership with such stars as Mariah Carey, J Balvin, Saweetie, and the boys from BTS (via The New York Times). Canadian favorite Tim Horton's teamed up with another Canadian favorite, Justin Bieber, for a special line of donut holes, while Dunkin' Donuts took the easy route for their Charli D'Amelio team-up, simply renaming an existing drink after her.

But this trend is hardly a new one. Eater notes that celebrity endorsements went hand-in-hand with the rise of casual dining chains in the United States in the 1960s. Leonard Slye, the singing cowboy TV star better known as Roy Rogers, lent his name to a chain of roast beef restaurants that, albeit dwindling from its heyday in the 1970s, still has a handful of locations around the country. The honor was even extended to fictional characters. Popeyes fried chicken claims to have been named after a character from the film "The French Connection," but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that they also had a 35-year advertising partnership with King Features, owner of the Popeye the Sailor Man comics. Popeye was not the only cartoon character to get in on the fried chicken game either, as one notoriously hungry bear couldn't keep his paws off the business.

Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken has one surviving location

In the late 1960s, Gene Broome of Columbia, South Carolina, came up with an innovative way to tenderize fried chicken while infusing it with flavor, and no, it wasn't pickle juice. As recounted by The Post and Courier, Broome had devised a chemical meat tenderizer that also infused his chicken with honey flavor. Two notable celebrities of the era, Minnie Pearl and Mahalia Jackson, had lent their names to fried chicken chains, and Broome wanted to put some star power behind his operation as well. He first approached Jackie Gleason, but the comedian wasn't persuaded by the pitch. Broome was dejected until he caught a Yogi Bear cartoon on TV and had an epiphany.

The first outpost of Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken opened in Myrtle Beach, and while the details are vague, Atlas Obscura notes that Broome must have worked out a deal with Hanna-Barbera to license Yogi's name and image. While other chains serve fried chicken by the bucket, Yogi's appropriately opted for baskets. According to The Post and Courier, the franchise expanded to six locations before it was sold to Hardee's for one million dollars. As it turned out, Hardee's was only interested in Broome's honey-flavored tenderizer, and as soon as they owned the rights to it, the Yogi Bear chain was neglected. Today, only one location remains in Hartsville, South Carolina, where Yogi's smiling neon face still beckons customers to reach into his pic-a-nic basket.