Folks driving by the original Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Corbin will notice that renovations are still very much underway. As previously reported, a major remodel is in the works that will transform the birthplace of KFC into a one-of-a-kind destination where visitors can get their fill of delicious fried chicken while celebrating the life and legacy of founder Colonel Harland Sanders.
As for when the remodel will be completed, Mr. Steve Dearing is hoping to have everything in place by September or October of this year. Dearing is the Senior Vice President of Design and Construction for JRN, Inc. JRN is one of the largest KFC franchisees in existence, with over 160 locations across 11 states, including where it all started right here in Corbin.
“I’ve been with JRN for about 30 years, and I’ve been with KFC for about 50,” Dearing recently explained. “I even served as an usher at the Colonel’s funeral. I’ve been around to see just about everything that has happened with KFC since they moved their headquarters to Louisville.”
Obviously, Dearing is in a very unique position to speak about the work currently being done at the Corbin Kentucky Fried Chicken. For him, this goes far beyond just another construction job. It truly is a labor of love, and he is excited about how this remodel and expansion will not only change the restaurant itself, but the entire community as well.
“Corbin is an important location, because this is where the product of KFC was developed,” Dearing said. “The first time we did an upgrade here was for the Colonel’s 100th birthday in 1990. We wanted historical correctness, and we’re doing some of that here also, but the importance has really shifted to making this more of a world-class experience.”
Speaking about what visitors can expect once the project is completed, Dearing said, “We’re expanding the museum space, updating the lighting and changing some of the pathways to make the exhibits more visitor-friendly.”
For example, Dearing said, “Instead of walking up to the model motel room, we’ve made it so you can walk all the way through the exhibit now. It will be the same with the kitchen. Instead of just looking at the old kitchen, you will be able to actually walk through it.”
“We’re trying to make it more of an experience where the customer can get closer, and absorb more while they’re here.”
A big focus of the updated Corbin KFC will be to celebrate Colonel Sanders. As Dearing explained, “We’re also going to be expanding on the history of the Colonel himself. Before, it was basically the history of Corbin. Corbin is obviously still very important as the birthplace of KFC, and that will continue to be focused on, but we will also be focusing a lot of the exhibits on the Colonel as a man, his family, and how he grew as a person over the years. Then there will be some additional focus on the Colonel as an icon, which lives on today all over the world.”
“The entire legacy of the KFC brand will be on display here, so the KFC Corporation is watching, and they are involved to a certain extent to help us develop this.”
Additionally, Dearing said that the new Corbin KFC will expand upon its souvenir offerings, and photo opportunities will be abundant.
“Right now, there are basically two photo ops,” Dearing said. “There is the sign outside, and the Colonel on the bench inside. There will be about ten photo ops after we’re done. Part of our purpose in doing this is to help you make memories with the family, so there will be a whole lot more attention paid to photo opportunities.”
As for when this massive overhaul project will be completed, Dearing said the original plan was to hopefully host a grand opening in September for the Colonel’s birthday. However, COVID-19 has complicated things considerably.
“We got sidetracked a little bit with COVID,” Dearing explained. “But it is possible that we could still be ready by the original target date. The problem will be whether or not to gather. We are still wrestling with how we want to handle a grand opening. It is a very fluid situation, and it is still in discussion. We want to be able to do the opening safely.”
In the meantime, the business of serving up great food continues via drive-thru for now. The restaurant is currently hiring in anticipation of the full re-opening, though, and applications can be submitted online at www.jobs.kfc.com.
One last thing to mention about this project is the Colonel’s house, which sits nearby. There has been much speculation about how the house will be used, and as of now that still remains to be seen. Dearing believes, however, that long-term plans will include having the house serve as an extension of the overall museum experience. The possibility of visitors being able to pay to spend the night there does still exist, though, potentially giving KFC fans the chance to sleep under the very same roof as Colonel Sanders himself.
One thing is for sure, and that is when this project is finally completed, Corbin will be able to proudly say that it is home to the most impressive Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on the planet. Look for large signs to be in place later this year, welcoming visitors from far and wide to the location where a beloved international restaurant chain was born.
Oh, and one of these signs will be from Ruggles Sign out of Versailles. And who is part owner of that sign company? None other than the granddaughter of Colonel Harland Sanders. Now, how’s that for coming full circle?