Carl’s Jr. began selling a 1,080-calorie burger Wednesday that it hopes appeals to Americans’ patriotic spirit, along with their appetites.
The Most American Thickburger features a beef patty topped with hot dogs and a layer of potato chips, combining three Fourth of July barbecue staples in a creation aimed squarely at the fast-food chain’s core customers: “young, hungry guys.”
“People love these big, juicy, indulgent burgers,” said Andy Puzder, the chief executive officer of closely held CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and its companion chain Hardee’s. “We know who we are and we know how to appeal to our customers.”
The idea for the burger has been percolating inside the Carpinteria, California-based company for almost five years, Puzder said. The chain toyed with including french fries on the burger, but found they wouldn’t hold up against the moisture inside the sandwich. They got too soggy. The same was true of regular potato chips, so Carl’s Jr. settled on kettle-cooked chips that are a bit hardier.
The fast-food chain, which is controlled by the private-equity firm Roark Capital, has about 3,500 restaurants worldwide, including approximately 2,900 in the U.S.
As part of its strategy of going after 18- to 34-year-old men, the company’s ads feature scantily clad models and actresses, including Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Charlotte McKinney. The new commercials for the American burger star Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Samantha Hoopes, who appears in a hot tub wearing an American flag bikini.
“It really emphasizes the all-American nature of this burger and the taste sensation when you bit into it,” Puzder said.
The 64-year-old CEO said he has killed previous ads that he found too suggestive. He also shows each one to his wife before giving the greenlight. The commercials generate some complaints, but the attention -- whether good or bad -- ultimately helps the brand, Puzder said.
“Beautiful women eating burgers and washing cars -- what could be more American than that? I’m OK with it,” he said. “We don’t want to offend anyone, but the complaints seem to drive sales.”
In the spirit of all publicity being good publicity, the Carl’s Jr. Twitter account promoted a video clip of comedian Jimmy Kimmel saying the burger was “like eating a petting zoo.” Kimmel then showed a mock Carl’s Jr. commercial ending with the tagline, “It’s time to die.”
Carl’s Jr.’s best performing restaurant over the last two years is in Williston, North Dakota, where sales topped $4 million in 2014, almost four times the national average. Puzder attributed the performance to the male workers who have swarmed North Dakota looking for jobs in the oil and gas industry.
And what about health concerns? With Chipotle promoting natural ingredients and McDonald’s dabbling with kale, Americans are probably more focused on nutrition than ever before. The Carl’s Jr. burger has about half the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s daily recommendation for calories. Do diners really want a burger topped with chips and hot dogs that packs 64 grams of fat?
Yes, Puzder said. Carl’s Jr. offers turkey burgers and has an all-natural patty made with beef raised without antibiotics, but those items don’t sell as well as the more indulgent burgers.
“I’m not the food police,” Puzder said. “My job isn’t to dictate to people what to eat. My job is to figure out what people want and sell it to them.”