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Chances are you don’t typically associate the NewsHour program, carried locally by KQED, with Kentucky Fried Chicken, but if you listen closely to the NewsHour’s closing credits, you’ll hear, “This broadcast is brought to you in part through the generosity of Pete and Arline Harman and KFC.” The Harmans are major donors not only to KQED (for example, over $1 million last year in KQED’s recent digital-conversion campaign), but also to diverse charitable foundations including the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital .

The Harman’s wealth is attributable largely to the enormous quantity of “finger-lickin good chicken” they’ve sold since 1952 when Colonel Sanders cooked up a batch of chicken seasoned with his special blend of spices in Pete Harman’s Salt Lake City diner. Pete coined the restaurant name, “Kentucky Fried Chicken” and became Sanders very first franchisee—agreeing to pay him a nickel for each chicken sold. (More….) Fifty-four years later, Pete and Arline Harman are now residents of Los Altos and the company they founded, Harman Management Corporation, manages roughly 335 independently owned and operated KFC outlets out of a total of approximately 13,000 franchises worldwide now operated under the umbrella of Yum Brands.

The KFC on the corner of Lake Park and Walker Avenues, which opened in about 1975, is known in the Harman’s offices as “Ed and Grace, #145”—in honor of the management team that previously owned and operated it. Ed and Grace were part of a long tradition that promoted hard-working employees to owner/management positions as new franchises and opportunities arose. Originally, owner/managers received a 50-percent share of profits. According to Jim Nicol, the Regional Director for Harman Management, that figure is now 30 percent, but the Harman team continues to promote from within and the newest owner/manager of #145 is Danny Garcia, who began his career as a KFC cook.

Colonel Sanders sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken Company in 1964 and through the ensuing years, it has been owned by a number of corporate entities including Heublein, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and PepsiCo. In 1991, corporate offices deemed the inclusion of “Fried” in the company name to be detrimental to their image (and therefore to sales), prompting their re-branding as simply “KFC.” Fifteen years later, the pendulum has swung back and corporate headquarters is now mandating that all 13,000 KFC outlets (including the 335 managed by Harman Management) replace their signage to conform to the new/old logo which brings us quite indirectly to my original motivation for writing this article.

When we heard that KFC was intending to change the signs on “Ed and Grace, #145,” a few community members sought assistance from the City’s Planning Department and from Joanne Karchmer, Pat Kernighan’s newest aide. Karchmer arranged for Jim Nicol and Rakesh Kumar, the area consultant for Harman’s Management, to meet with a group of community stake-holders including Arvi Dorsey, Adam Vandewater, Chris York, and myself. Nicol quickly outlined plans that included removal of the massive bucket on top of the pylon and new signs with less square footage than what is there currently. After a little give and take, as an indication of their commitment to helping us improve our Grand Lake neighborhood, Nicol and Kumar agreed to remove the pylon entirely—cementing what has proven to be a very good working relationship.

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As early as late January, construction is likely to begin. In addition to the changes in signage, the building itself will be updated. As Nicol readily admitted, it is an eyesore that would never be constructed today. The most obvious change will be removal of the garish, red-tile mansard roof. In addition, access for the disabled will be improved with lower counters and a handicapped parking space on the rear lot. The concrete picnic tables on the Walker Avenue side will be replaced and pushed back towards the building, effectively widening the sidewalk. Construction will take approximately two months during which the restaurant will remain open.

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As part of the overall efforts to spruce up the surroundings, the City of Oakland’s Tree Division will be planting four columnar maples along the curb on Walker Avenue at KFC’s request. The tree-planting is being coordinated by City Arborist, Dan Gallagher, who recommended the maples because they are already planted along the freeway in Splash Pad Park and also because their growth habit will not obscure the Kentucky Fried Chicken signs. Dan has also promised to remove the tree stub on Lake Park just to the east of the KFC. Unfortunately, utility lines cross the existing sidewalk cut and it’s not going to be possible to plant a replacement tree. We’re hoping that with the cooperation of the Lakeshore Business Improvement District, which maintains the tree wells on Lakeshore, we will be able to instead plant native grasses or other hardy perennials in this space.

The storefront immediately adjacent to the KFC is also undergoing construction and should open early next year as an Italian Gelato outlet. As an aside, all KFCs are undergoing a less obvious, but equally important change. They’ve already reduced the trans fat content of their cooking oils by 50% and within six months, trans fats will no longer be in use—part of the health-conscious trend that this week prompted New York City to ban most trans fats from restaurants.

Along with cold, wet weather, change is in the air and for this corner of Lake Park Avenue it’s looking quite positive.