Kathy Montgomery

If you grew up watching television, “Mmm, Mmm, Good” probably makes you think of Campbell’s soup. “North America’s Hospitality Dish” probably doesn’t make you think of Kentucky Fried Chicken (now known as KFC). Company founder Harland Sanders, after all, was better at cooking than he was at writing slogans. But one slogan does bring to mind the franchise he created. And it rose spontaneously to the lips of a quick-thinking Arizona restaurant manager.

Kentucky Fried Chicken began when Sanders licensed his famous recipe of 11 herbs and spices to small mom-and-pop eateries. Pete Harman in Salt Lake City became the first in 1952. Shortly afterward, Pete persuaded his brother, Dave, to do the same.

Dave and his wife owned Harman’s Ranch Restaurant, housed in a landmark red barn on Apache Boulevard in Tempe. The Harmans added Kentucky Fried Chicken to their Western-themed menu, and within a few years, it became a featured specialty.

Dave Harman advertised his signature dish on television, but after a stroke in 1956, he couldn’t speak clearly. Instead, he ate a plateful of chicken during live commercials while restaurant manager Ken Harbaugh voiced the ads. When an outraged viewer called the station one day to complain that Harman licked his fingers, Harbaugh replied, “Well, it’s finger-lickin’ good!”

Aside from a brief pause during the pandemic, KFC has used the slogan ever since.

Harman and Harbaugh ultimately became partners. After Harman retired, Harbaugh took over operations and opened a chicken carryout facility on the side of the red barn. His stepson Phil Freestone worked there with a college student named Karen. “My dad had a vision of something he called ‘sudden service,’ ” Phil recalls. As Karen took the order, Phil filled it. “Our goal was to have everything completed by the time [the order] got paid,” he says.

Both of Harbaugh’s stepsons recall him as a well-loved and colorful storyteller. Chris Freestone says he wondered if half the stories were true. For example, Harbaugh claimed he once lived next door to Dennis the Menace creator Hank Ketcham in Carmel, California. Harbaugh said Ketcham’s son Dennis, who inspired the cartoon character, used to pour sand into his dog’s ears. “When they were in Europe, they bumped into [Ketcham] and Hank was really excited to see Ken,” Chris recalls. “My mom was big-eyed. I guess that one was true.”

Harman and Harbaugh ultimately opened Harman’s Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets throughout the Valley. And when the red barn was demolished in the 1970s, a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise took its place.