Sometimes it’s hard to keep a good burger down. For those who haven’t followed the long, sad story of the Hartee’s hamburger franchise, here’s a quick recap.
With the advent of American fast food franchises in Australia in the late 60s and early 70s, Kelloggs teamed with the US-based Hardees burger chain to start Hartee’s, the first Australian fast food restaurant (despite its very red white and blue beginnings).
It was a near-instant success. Whether it was down to underlying xenophobia towards overseas brand names, smart management or just plain delicious burgers, by 1973 Hartee’s was king of the fast food hill in Australia.
Complacency became the daily special from then on, with a series of extravagant HQ upgrades and new outlets sprouting like weeds all over Sydney. Despite this, the chain was beginning to haemorrhage cash at a pretty severe rate, and McDonald’s was aggressively making major headway into the Australian scene. Something had to give.
And give it did, here at the Bankstown Hartee’s in 1975, when a current affairs program, acting on a tip-off, exposed the outlet as having served dog food in burgers. Overnight, Hartee’s packed up and disappeared, leaving only husks behind, and that’s where the story seems to end.
Except thanks to reader Phil, there’s a final piece of the puzzle to be put in place. I’d previously written that only the four former Hartee’s above still existed in any form around Sydney… Well, we all make mistakes. Just ask Bankstown Hartee’s.
Behold, the Manly Vale Hartee’s still stands. It’s currently Gilmour’s Comfort Shoes, but it pretty obviously fits in with the Hartee design.
In fact, this may be the most well-preserved Hartee’s still in existence. The Gilmour’s sign appears to be stuck on over the red roof, so it’s possible the Hartee’s logo remains underneath.
The original lights are still in place, designed to illuminate the Hartee’s name. Also still in place, as per Phil’s advice…
The original outdoor seating area! Now it’s presumably the shoe shop manager’s car park (c’mon, look at the prestige offered by that strange piece of land). Inside are just shoes, but really, they’ve served worse and called it burgers.
It’s not really a happy ending, or an ending at all, but it is (I’m guessing) the final footnote on what by now must be the most definitive account of the Hartee’s affair out there. There are still many mysteries surrounding the story (truly, more questions are raised than answered), but maybe one day one of those faceless, guilt-ridden Hartee’s executives will come out of hiding and reveal more. Hell, I’d even settle for the guy who served the dog food. As ever, if you know more, please let Past/Lives know. And RIP Hartee’s – we hartlee knew ye.
In the meantime, let’s take a minute to remember those four powerful words that watered more mouths than Mount Franklin, that were a city’s guilty pleasure in a time before Big Macs and Whoppers…in a time when a nation could feed itself.
One of the most interesting aspects of revisiting these places one year on is discovering whether history has repeated itself. As you’ll no doubt recall, this location was formerly the fondly-remembered Homestead Golden Fried Chicken and later KFC, until an outbreak of stupidity and negligence caused its closure. Oh, you need a refresher? Hope you haven’t just eaten:
Hire One was quick to jump in and seize the reins of that deep fried legacy…
Alas, one won’t be hiring anything anymore at this husk. Hire One was apparently absorbed into the Kennards empire, the coffers of which were deep enough to break the lease and free up the site for a potential Homestead comeback. Or perhaps given the sordid history of the site, a Hartee’s comeback is more likely.
Allied with the powerful Captain Hindsight, Cerno agent Donovan Moodie wisely buried ‘restaurant’ deep within the list of potential usages. Note that first part: “Previously successful Hire One plant hire business”. No mention of the hapless KFC, which is probably the building’s longest tenant (and certainly the least hygienic).
But there’s no need to mention it; the eerie visage of the Colonel hangs over the place like a bespectacled ghost. Look closely and you can still see him smiling, just as he did after each Hire One customer walked out with their temporary cement mixers. I hope you washed your hands…
Mosman KFC – it’s been closed since 2004, presumably because it was on Military Road and wasn’t a boutique fashion outlet. I think Mosman Council must have some kind of cull every now and then of shops that aren’t conforming to the Mosman style; prior to the 1950s, this site was a grand old house belonging to Mosman G.P. Dr. Geoffrey Mutton, complete with tennis court out the back. The tennis court is now the block of units at the top right of the picture, and here on Military Road we have the Colonel, now awaiting oblivion/development.
You can tell this outlet is old because it doesn’t feature or allow for a drive-thru system, and apparently it also acted as a car dealership at some point. It’s notable in the illustrious history of KFC as being the recipient of a visit from Colonel Sanders himself in 1976:
Put some gloves on, Colonel.
Australia’s experiences with American-style fast food started during the Second World War. Visiting American GIs helped the relatively young nation get a taste for hamburgers with cheese and fried chicken, while the influx of immigrants to the country introduced exotic food such as the souvlaki, pizza and kebabs. The major fast food franchises of today had all originated in the USA in the 1940s and 50s, and while Australia had been content thus far to survive on meat pies, milk bars and Chinese restaurants for take away treats, the 1960s ushered in a new wave. The fast food empires saw Australia as prime territory. Kentucky Fried Chicken was first to move in, establishing its first Australian store at Guildford in Sydney’s west in 1968. Pizza Hut opened its first store in Belfield in April, 1970. In that same year, amid the American invasion, the first major Australian-owned fast food franchise opened its store in Earlwood, NSW.
Seizing on the absence of hamburger franchises thus far in Australia (McDonalds would open their first location in 1971), Kellogg Food Products Pty. Ltd. had made an agreement with the American Hardee’s chain of hamburger restaurants to create ‘Hartee’s’, an American-style burgers-‘n-fries restaurant franchise. The first Hartee’s opened here, on the corner of Homer Street and Joy Ave in Earlwood, with the take-away shop below and the head office above. Unlike many other Australian attempts to emulate the American fast food experience, Hartee’s was a success – TV and radio carried the jingle “Hurry on down to Hartee’s, where the burgers are barbecued!”. Kelloggs planned for over 100 Hartee’s locations in Australia and New Zealand, but it didn’t quite work out that way…
It’s hard to tell, but the above picture is the only photograph I could find of West Hurstville’s Homestead Chicken restaurant on the corner of Forest Road and Gloucester Road.
WATERMARKED UPDATE: Thanks to readers Chris and Jade, a photo of Hurstville Homestead in its glory days has been located via Hurstville Library! And you know what that means…watermarks. Enjoy:
Homestead sold a variety of KFC-esque chicken products, and had a number of locations around south Sydney. This one seems to have been custom built in 1986 (it does not appear in a 1985 overhead photo), closed around 1990, and was replaced and refitted by…
The Kentucky Fried Chicken (are we still calling it that?) stood here until 2009, when this happened. The problems must have been bad enough to dissuade all potential buyers hoping to use the site as a restaurant, which brings us to today.
This must be Sydney’s third equpiment hire place with drive thru facilities, after the Kennards at Padstow and Complete Hire at Canterbury. Homestead Chicken was unique for its particularly odd drive thru mechanism, which is still in place:
This served as a kind of dumbwaiter, with the customer putting their payment in a tray that was then lifted up and into the restaurant. The food would be delivered the same way. Perhaps ironically, this relatively hands-free system was intended to be more hygienic.