I Went To KFC Headquarters And Here Are My Finger Lickin' Thoughts

KFC headquarters exterior
KFC headquarters exterior - Michael Palan / Static Media
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

When you get an invitation requesting your attendance at the corporate headquarters of KFC -- which is designed to look exactly like the White House -- it's an offer you cannot refuse. Spoiler alert: I could not refuse. For one lovely day, I descended upon Louisville, Kentucky. I headed up Colonel Sanders Lane and was given rare access to the inner workings of a fast food company with around 27,000 restaurants in over 145 countries.

KFC, also known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, is now a part of Yum! Brands. The corporation includes other famous restaurant chains, like Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, but this headquarters visit was all about the chicken. I met with the enthusiastic Nick Chavez, chief marketing officer of KFC United States, and toured the Colonel Sanders Museum. I even learned about KFC products past, present, and future while getting my hands dirty in the test kitchen.

There's almost too much to tell from this one magical day -- and a lot of it's still under wraps. But I can tell you this: KFC may be a storied legacy brand steeped in memories of yesterday, but it has a bright, super-crunchy future ahead. Without further ado, here are my finger lickin' thoughts after visiting the KFC headquarters.

Some recommendations are based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer.

Read more: The Ultimate Ranking Of The Best Fried Chicken Chains

The Colonel Sanders Museum

Colonel Sanders Museum entrance
Colonel Sanders Museum entrance - Michael Palan / Static Media

Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of KFC, got things cooking in Corbin, Kentucky. Today, the Sanders Cafe & Museum remains there, honoring the original KFC location.

However, when the man in the white suit and Western-style bow tie took a break from being a traveling brand ambassador, he hung up his cane where he did even more work: his office located inside the Louisville headquarters. Although Sanders passed in 1980, his corner office remains a must-see, as it's now a museum honoring the man, myth, and legend.

As one enters the museum, you'll be startled by a creepy, animatronic Sanders holding a bucket of chicken. His office is not gigantic, but it is filled wall-to-wall with photos, awards, and other fascinating ephemera. Highlights included a "Vote for Colonel Sanders" campaign button (from when he ran and lost a Kentucky State Senator bid in 1951) and a 1973 Norman Rockwell portrait that shows a rare glimpse of the human fast food mascot without glasses. You shouldn't pass up the chance to sit at his desk and imagine his unique career -- that all started with 11 herbs and spices -- or ponder what lies in the time capsule that's set to be opened in 2027.

The Colonel Sanders Museum is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can call 502-874-2174 for more information about visiting.

Insights From Nick Chavez, Chief Marketing Officer Of KFC U.S.

Nick Chavez and team
Nick Chavez and team - Michael Palan / Static Media

Nick Chavez was made the chief marketing officer of KFC U.S. in 2021. Before that, Chavez made his mark at Nintendo, helping to grow the popularity of the company's Switch gaming console. Chavez may still be earning his red-and-white stripes at KFC, but in a short time with the company, he has already created a lot of buzz. At KFC, he is keen on retaining longtime customers with a new set of value meals while also trying to attract a younger audience.

In a conversation, Chavez said: "Our purpose as KFC is to serve everyone joy, with the world's best tasting fried chicken." To appeal to "everyone," KFC has to both honor its loyal consumers and keep pace with modern times. The latter can mean adapting to newer eating habits, like the changing times when people eat.

Under Chavez's watch, Original Recipe Nuggets were launched with so much success in 2023, that in 2024, KFC went a step further by slathering them up in five flavors with its Saucy Nuggets. Chavez said that more fun flavors are in the works and that the company is also working on its digital footprint.

One thing that seems to be missing from KFC is breakfast offerings. Chavez informed me that biscuit-based breakfasts were currently offered at Louisville, Atlanta, and Los Angeles airports. Although there isn't a plan to expand these offerings, the company is watching how these breakfasts perform.

The Secret Original Recipe

Colonel's desk and vault
Colonel's desk and vault - Michael Palan / Static Media

In his autobiography, Colonel Harland Sanders wrote: "With my secret recipe of eleven spices and herbs, which is still used today by all Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets, I was able to come up with a method of sealing in the chicken flavor, preserving its moisture, and giving it a soft finish that just melts in your mouth" (via Internet Archive). That secret recipe once openly hung in the original KFC location. However, once KFC became a behemoth chain, it was moved to a vault in Sanders' office. A replica of this vault is now on display in the Colonel Sanders Museum.

The recipe (along with vials of the herbs and spices) was later stored in a locked filing cabinet. Then, in 2009, they were transferred to a more secure vault. Only a few high-level KFC executives now have access to it and no person can be in the vault alone. To further keep things under wraps, the company employs two suppliers, each in charge of half of the herbs and spices, who then hand these ingredients to a third supplier to mix them.

In 2016, Sanders' nephew Joe Ledington revealed to The Chicago Tribune his aunt's scrapbook, which included a handwritten recipe that Ledington claimed was KFC's list of secret ingredients. KFC responded, telling The Chicago Tribune: "Lots of people through the years have claimed to discover or figure out the secret recipe, but no one's ever been right."

Insights From The Test Kitchen

KFC test kitchen
KFC test kitchen - Michael Palan / Static Media

The bulk of the time I spent at the KFC headquarters occurred in the test kitchen, with the informative Food Innovation Team. I got a behind-the-scenes look at the assembly line magic, where I learned how to bread, fry, and turn KFC's fried chicken into Saucy Nuggets. Seven is the kitchen's lucky number. It's how many times you roll the chicken to dry it, press it into a breading, then coat it in sauce.

Preparing food is one thing, but eating food is a lot more fun. Next, the Food Innovation Team treated me to my first bites of those Saucy Nuggets, as well as those hot-off-the-press Apple Pie Poppers. I indulged in plenty of other tasty items and sweet drinks, but since they are either still on the horizon or in an early testing phase, I sadly have to keep those treats to myself. Let's just say that good things come to those who wait.

I am an equal opportunity fried chicken-eater (I also enjoy Popeyes), so I was curious to see if that was also true of the Food Innovation Team. One member told me they only dine at KFC competitors to see what they're up against. I was surprised to learn that KFC considers McDonald's more of a rival than the other fried chicken chains.

Read the original article on Daily Meal