In the popular imagination, the American fast-food chain founder is an amalgam of entrepreneurial archetypes. He is at once a garage tinkerer and a tastemaker, a showman and a flesh-presser. He starts out in a paper hat behind a lunch counter and rises to become the smiling grandfatherly face on a thousand billboards and a million management handbooks.
No member of the fast-food pantheon actually matches up with this mythic figure, of course. Ray Kroc was a salesman by trade, not a cook, and a charismatic autocrat whose mania for detail verged on the pathological. Harland Sanders spent his later years embittered by what Kentucky Fried Chicken had become—a franchisee ended up suing him for libel when the Colonel called the chain’s gravy “pure wallpaper paste.”