The Church Story Behind KFC’s Rapid Growth
We all love KFC. It is one of the most recognizable American fast-food chains globally, but did you know that the person responsible for KFC’s rapid success was a latter-day saint?
The story was told by Brother Mark Albright as written from a letter given by Kurt Prestwhich.
“As most people know, KFC was originally founded by Harland Sanders, an entrepreneur who began selling fried chicken from his roadside restaurant in Kentucky during the Great Depression. Sanders identified the potential of restaurant franchising, and in 1952, Pete Harman opened the world’s first “Kentucky Fried Chicken” franchise in Salt Lake City,” Prestwhich told Meridian Magazine.
“My father Kent Prestwich opened some of the first franchises for KFC and then went on to become an Executive Vice President for the young KFC Company. While he was in that position, the company exploded in growth in the late 1960s.”
One day at the request of Lehman Brothers, one of the largest investment banking firms in the country, my father Kent, Jack Massey, and John Brown were invited to come to the Lehman Brothers headquarters in Manhattan, NY, to discuss KFC’s opportunities for future growth. KFC was in the process of trying to raise a huge amount of capital for expansion. After the KFC group concluded their presentation to the bankers, one of the officers of Lehman Brothers said, “Before we break for lunch, it is customary that we have a toast commemorating the anticipated success of the deal, and it is customary that we toast with Sherry wine.”
My dad was sitting at a large round conference table and was one of the last people the waiter approached. So many thoughts were racing through his head. The President of KFC whispered to him, “Kent, don’t blow this by turning down just one drink! This is a significant deal. It is the way they do business here!”
He tried to think of possible ways to get out of drinking the wine. He first thought maybe he could pretend to drink the wine or maybe drink it, and who would really care. Brother Kent finally decided that his covenants with the Lord are more important than the business deal. He told the waiter, “No, thank you. I’ll just have a tomato juice, please.”
After saying that to the waiter, KFC’s owners were so furious at him. And one of them told Kent, “this is just one drink, just one time!”. They were unhappy with Kent’s decision.
The waiter sent a runner to purchase a tomato juice just for Kent to join the toast.
After lunch, the senior Lehman Brother officer sent a request to meet Kent in his private room. He entered the room being so nervous about what might happen inside.
The CEO then asked, “Kent, why didn’t you take the Sherry?”
Without hesitation, he explained his church standards regarding the word of wisdom and that it is against his beliefs.
The banker then replied: “We know you’re a Mormon, and we were just testing the integrity of the leadership of KFC to see if you could pass this test before we loaned you the money!”
“Lehman’s investigators had already uncovered my father’s religious beliefs, and the Lehman management team had decided to test my father’s commitment to wine and the traditional business toast,” he told Meridian Magazine.
Kent’s decision to stand for his standards led to an enormous investment in KFC that fueled its expansion across the United States and abroad.