There is still one remaining Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken open in America
The fast-food chain started in the late-'60s and is holding on in South Carolina.
Images: The Everett Collection (Yogi), Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken (Sign)
If you ever find yourself in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, the hometown of Andy Griffith and the real-world "Mayberry," hop on U.S. Route 52 and head south of the small town. Route 52 crosses the border and winds you down past Hartsville, South Carolina. There, you will find another piece of vintage Americana with warm-and-fuzzy (well, hot-and-crispy) television ties.
You see, Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken dishes out boxes of drumsticks in Hartsville. It is the last remaining location of a chain once tied to the Hanna-Barbera pic-a-nic lover.
Like The Flintstones, a cartoon heavily inspired by The Honeymooners, Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken can trace its roots back to Jackie Gleason.
Kentucky Fried Chicken had shaken up the fast-food industry in the Sixties. After introducing his "bucket meal" in 1957, Colonel Sanders saw his fortunes skyrockets. According to the book Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, Kentucky Fried Chicken had spread to 600 locations across the land, making it the biggest fast-food business in America. Suddenly, everyone wanted in on the fried chicken game.
Minnie Pearl, a Southern comedy character performed by Sarah Ophelia Colley at the Grand Ole Opry and on Hee Haw, lent her name to a chain called, naturally, Minnie Pearl's Fried Chicken, born in Nashville in the Sixties.
Not far away, just a little way east, a savvy South Carolina businessman named Eugene Broome looked to start his own fried chicken empire with a celebrity name. He initially envisioned a restaurant called Jackie Gleason's Fried Chicken, modeled after Minnie Pearl's Friend Chicken.
There was just one catch — Jackie Gleason would not sign off of the usage of his name. But there was a catchphrase.
"How sweet it is!" — first spouted in the 1963 movie Papa's Delicate Condition — became forever associated with Gleason. Even today, a road sign greeting drivers to Brooklyn, New York, declares: How Sweet It Is! You will also find the motto at the bottom of the vintage neon sign welcoming diners to Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken in Hartsville.
After his rejection from Gleason, Broome, who by 1962 had become the largest independent restaurant owner in the Palmetto State, instead turned to Hanna-Barbera. Ed Justin, the marketing supervisor at the animation studio, licensed the famous bear to Broome's restaurant. The Gleason catchphrase stuck, nevertheless, instead touting the sweet honey in the batter.
Broome had a knack for Hollywood-themed eateries. He also founded the Ponderosa Steak Barn, inspired by Bonanza, and Frank 'n' Steins, a hot-dogs-and-brewskis joint tied to the Universal Studios monster.
In 1968, hamburger giant Hardee's shelled out seven figures to partner with Broome and take Yogi Bear's Honey Fried Chicken national. An article in Investor's Reader magazine in 1971 explained that the chain had expanded to 11 locations around the South and Midwest, but sat "largely neglected" by its corporate overseers. The fine print in the old newspaper advertisements in the image up top show franchise locations as far as Waterloo, Iowa, and Huntsville, Alabama. The chain did not last much longer.
Some of the fiberglass figures of Boo Boo, Yogi and the Ranger Smith, once used to lure hungry drivers, remained for years as a roadside attraction in North Carolina. Those are cute, but you could wander a little south and pick up an order of the real thing. YouTube reviewers still delight in taking a nostalgia trip with their eyes and stomach.