Wednesday, November 27, 2013

let's talk about Hardees.

Everybody has their favorite fast food restaurant. Sure, they’re not the highest quality in the world, but when you’re looking for something quick and cheap, where else do you turn? Of course, not all fast food is created equal. Sadly, I’ve done my fair share of fast food research, and in my humble opinion, the best is (drumroll?) Hardees.

Now, let me qualify “fast food.” I’m referring to places like Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, and the like. Qdoba, Noodles & Company, Panera, etc are a different breed, so just forget about them. We’re going to be talking Hardees.

In my (numerous) stories about Brookings, I’ve told you about how my siblings and I constantly badgered my poor grandparents into taking us to McDonalds for Happy Meals. While I did enjoy a good chicken nugget from time to time, it was the toys (and definitely not the food) that kept us coming back to McDonalds.

In those days, our Brookings fast food options were limited to McDonalds, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Taco John’s, Subway, and Hardees. Grandma Lorraine and Grandpa Harvey preferred Hardees out of all these options, so we’d throw them a bone once in a while and go to Hardees. The older I got and the less Happy Meal toys mattered to me, the more I appreciated Hardees. Their curly fries and hot ham and cheese sandwiches were right up my alley, and Hardees never made me feel as gross as McDonald’s did – you know the feeling.

Hardees became a regular in our fast food rotation, but not just in Brookings: one of my earliest memories of my Grandpa Darwin, weirdly enough, involves the Watertown Hardees. I was awfully young (three? four?), and I was in Watertown with Dad and Grandpa. Dad had a truck to pick up in Watertown, so Grandpa had driven us there. Dad was going to take the truck home, and Grandpa said, “Do you want to ride home with your dad, or do you want to come to Hardees and have breakfast with me?” Needless to say, Dad drove home alone.

Like we do with so many things, I completely took Hardees for granted. I assumed it would always be there, ready to serve me up a delicious hot ham and cheese sandwich. But then came the day that it wasn’t. When I was a junior in high school (circa 2003), a small restaurant chain called Z’kota (don’t ask me) bought the Hardees in Brookings, Sioux Falls, and Watertown – basically, the only three places I ever went where there was Hardees potential.
Z’Kota was mediocre at best, and I resigned myself to having to look for Hardees in weird places.

The first Hardees I came across during that dark post-Z’kota takeover era was the one in Milbank, SD. Milbank doesn’t have much going for it… except Hardees. In October 2004, Mom and I drove to Morris, MN to visit a dinky little college in the middle of nowhere (and the rest is history). Our route took us through Milbank, which had the first Hardees I had seen in almost a year. It must’ve been destiny.

Not that I was a huge traveler in high school, but I could only find Hardees in two other places: Pierre and Moorhead. Both trips to Hardees were bright spots in otherwise lackluster trips. I was in Pierre - which is a godforsaken place, and I advise against making a trip there unless you absolutely must – for state oral interp. (I was so cool in high school.) We did not get a superior rating, so we drowned our sorrows at the Pierre Hardees. As for Moorhead, Dad and I were there in February 2005 on a college tour of Concordia. At the end of the tour, Dad and I located – joy of joys! – a Hardees, and over curly fries, he asked me what I thought of Concordia. “Didn’t like it,” I said firmly. “Good,” Dad said. “I didn’t like it either, but I wanted to hear it from you first.” My bone with Concordia was that it seemed way too uptight: there was a 10 o’clock curfew, for crying out loud. I never had a curfew in high school – why would I want to have one in college?

I ended up going to college at the U of M Morris, where there were no curfews, no limits on visitors, and where floors in the dorms were co-ed. Concordia would’ve been scandalized. Of course, I would periodically make the trip from Morris to Arlington, and each and every time, I’d stop at Hardees.

When I graduated from Morris, there was absolutely no reason to go through Milbank any more. I wasn’t sure when I’d get to Hardees again, but it wasn’t on the top of my “things to be concerned about” list: I was a bit more interested in, you know, getting a job.

After college, I bounced around from Denver to New Orleans to the Minneapolis area. It wasn’t until I was moving from a Minneapolis suburb to Minneapolis itself that I accidentally stumbled across a Hardees. It was June 2010, and James and I were exhausted from a day of moving and unpacking. We were driving to St Paul for some reason when all of the sudden, I glimpsed that old familiar logo on the other side of the interstate. “JAMES!” I yelled. “HARDEES!” We wound our way back to find the Hardees – it was in one of those little weird suburbs that you don’t’ even know is a suburb smushed in between Minneapolis and St Paul. It was a pretty skeezy Hardees, so we only ate there once or twice – but it was a Hardees nonetheless.

Not too long after the miraculous discovery of the Minneapolis Hardees, I learned that Hardees had bought back all its old restaurants from Z’Kota. Hardees was returning to Brookings, Watertown, and Sioux Falls. That was all good and well, but how often was I in any of those towns? Well, wouldn’t you know, I moved to Sioux Falls in September 2011 – and my first job back in Sioux Falls was practically right across the street from a Hardees.

I’ve been living in the Land of Hardees for more than two years now, and honestly, I don’t go there as much as I thought I would. I only get one thing at Hardees – that would be the hot ham and cheese sandwich – and you can only have so many of those.

They are delicious, even though they never look half
as nice as the sandwiches in the ads.
So even though I don’t eat there all that often, it’s nice to know I have the option. When I need something quick and easy, I’m awfully glad that Hardees is around.


  1. I love Hardees and Jason and I were super upset to see Z'kota come to Brookings when we were in college. We found a Hardees in Fairmont MN on the way to Minneapolis. Although we had to drive through town to find it, we were in heaven. But a few years ago we were going to go to it, and it had closed! We were so sad. Happily the Hardees buy out happened soon after that so we once again had Hardees.

    1. I remember the Fairmont Hardees! I would stop there during my drives when I was living in Minneapolis and James was living in Adrian. That was a few years ago, so it must've closed shortly after I moved back to SD. Thank goodness Sioux Falls has plenty of Hardees to keep us happy. :)