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This controversial burger chain revamped its raunchy image before embarking on a huge US expansion - here's what it's like to eat there now

Business Insider | Feb 10, 2018, 09.45PM IST

Carl's Jr.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

We got some Carl's Jr. classics: a Famous Star cheeseburger combo with fries, and a Western bacon cheeseburger.

  • Carl's Jr. is arguably known more for its provocative ads than its burgers, but the chain pivoted away from its controversial image in 2017.
  • The chain just opened a location in New York City, and I decided to try it for the first time.
  • The burgers were underwhelming, but the fries were fantastic.


I'd never been to a Carl's Jr. before, but I certainly knew about it. Through some rather controversial ad campaigns, the brand has certainly made itself a household name over the years.

Paris Hilton crawling across the soapy hood of a Bentley, a burger in hand. Kate Upton writhing around in the backseat of a convertible, enjoying the chain's patty melt a bit too much. A (barely) bikini-clad Charlotte McKinney setting up visual double-entendres left and right at a farmer's market.

Critics slammed the chain's sex-centric advertising, with feminist groups decrying the objectification of women and the comparison to pieces of meat. For better or worse, it made the chain - and its parent company, CKE Restaurants - pretty memorable.

The company's former CEO, Andy Puzder, told Entrepreneur in 2015, "I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it's very American."

Puzder was also unsuccessfully nominated as Trump's labor secretary.

With all that beef swirling about, I was well aware of Carl's Jr., despite having never seen one in my life.

But starting last year, Carl's Jr. turned over a new leaf, scrubbing up its image as it began to tackle expansion into the Northeast. CKE currently operates about 3,300 locations of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's across the country. It just opened a new Carl's Jr. location in Manhattan, so my opportunity to try the scandalous chain had arrived at last.

Do the burgers earn the same buzz that the chain's titillating image did? I had to find out. So I hopped on the subway and headed towards Penn Station where the new outpost was - and as luck would have it, I was pretty hungry.

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