Harry Sidhu is hosting his first ever Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast at the Anaheim Convention Center later this month. As part of the event, he’ll be welcoming keynote speaker Andy Puzder, the former CEO of CKE Restaurants and the man who not only ruined the once-great Carl’s Jr. burger chain, but took its headquarters away from its beloved hometown of Anaheim for good!
Of course, President Donald Trump’s ill-fated pick to become U.S. Labor Secretary at the onset of his administration is billed as a man of faith in addition to his fast food exploits. “Andy had a working-class Catholic upbringing,” the prayer breakfast invitation reads, “and has continued to live as a devout Catholic through his life.”
But just like a Six Dollar Burger always looks better in advertisements than the sloppy assemblage between buns that’s actually beneath the wrapping at any Carl’s Jr., the same is true of Puzder’s glowing profile.
As a Weekly cover story by Gustavo Arellano in 2017 retold, conservative Catholicism helped forge a bond between Karcher, who faithfully attended St. Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim, and Puzder. The future CEO started off as Karcher’s personal attorney in 1990, the year he moved to Orange County. Puzder helped the chain’s founder return the company’s board in 1993 after being infamously ousted from it.
The pair began attending morning mass together, but Puzder never became the approachable multimillionaire quick to hand out free burger coupons to young Anaheimers that Karcher was. In 2000, he took over as CEO of CKE Restaurants, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s parent company, and moved its longtime Harbor Boulevard headquarters to Carpenteria before leaving California altogether for Nashville two years ago; the latter move prompted the Anaheim corporate office to shutter.
A regional chain turned into a mighty multinational, but few back in Anaheim bit into its burgers with the same pride of old. The once praiseworthy Western Bacon Cheeseburger became a stingy abomination nobody could ever happily sink their teeth into again, burger babe commercials be damned.
And its locations became a hellhole for workers.
A Capital and Main investigation found that Carl’s Jr. and Hardee restaurants led the way for American burger chains in terms of federal employment-discrimination lawsuits filed against them under Puzder’s helm.
The burger boss also showed contempt for fast food workers while opposing Fight for $15 minimum wage campaigns.
“Have you ever been to a fast food restaurant and the employees are sitting and you’re wondering, ‘Why are they sitting?’” Puzder remarked in a December 2009 interview stored in Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Oral and Public History (COPH). “They are on what is called a mandatory break [emphasis his].”
Both Puzder and Trump share a hatred of California, with the former calling it “socialist” in the COPH interview. That’s what made Puzder the perfect choice to become labor secretary under the president in 2017 until domestic violence allegations his ex-wife made using an alias on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1990 resurfaced; she later retracted such claims as part of a child custody agreement. Puzder withdrew his nomination and stepped down as CEO of CKE Restaurants that same year.
Sidhu, who owns El Pollo Loco franchises himself, is now inviting Puzder to share his gospel of grease and greed in a city he left behind.
No word if the corporate stuffed shirts sure to be in attendance will kick off their morning with a 730-calorie Breakfast Burger and a side of EXTRA BIG ASS hash brown nuggets for old time’s sake.
But to summon the Good Book with the Oct. 23 prayer breakfast in mind: what does it profit a man to have turned Carl’s Jr. into a fast food empire, only to have the company lose its soul along the way?
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!