A good fit from the start

Tena Brock – Manager, Colonel Sanders Café – Corbin, Kentucky

Feature | Corbin, Kentucky | 14 April 2021
The birthplace of the iconic Kentucky Fried Chicken, started by Colonel Harland Sanders in the back of a service station in the small town of Corbin, Kentucky. Sanders managed the business from his home which was just across the street. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“I am always really pleased with how people come in and want to know so much about the Colonel and what went on in his life, and to look around at this store,” says café manager Tena Brock.

After nearly three decades of working for Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Tena with her natural welcoming smile and southern charm, greets all visitors that come from far and wide to the historic Harland Sanders Café and Museum in Corbin, Kentucky.

The smell of the “finger lickin’ good” Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) permeating through the air is hard to miss. “I run the day-to-day business, do the orders for our chicken and our stock orders, and I serve a lot of customers- a lot of out-of-state, out of town, and out of country customers.”

Before assuming her role as manager of the Café and Museum, Tena had been a KFC employee for 25 years at another location, where she worked her way up. “It’s just something I fell into before, I got into something else,” she reveals, when asked how she started working at the franchise. “Twenty-five years later this was the something else, and I am very happy with that,” Brock says of her managerial position which she has been working in for roughly two years.

For over 27 years, Tena Brock has been a dedicated employee of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. Today, her warm smile greets many tourists and customers who come to visit the original KFC store which is now a café and a museum. ILO Photos/ Jon Isaac
In 1930, Colonel Harland Sanders moved to Corbin, Kentucky, where he began a service station across the street from where the Harland Sanders Café and Museum now stands. From the back of the station, Sanders began to serve meals such as chicken dishes, and steaks, while showcasing the culinary skills passed on to him from his mother.

It was also here that he created and perfected his legendary and world-renowned top-secret fried chicken recipe of eleven herbs and spices, the trademarked original recipe for KFC.

The Colonel went on to build the Sanders Café in 1937, but two years later a fire damaged the building causing him to rebuild and open again in 1940, until he sold the Café in 1956. During this time, he also began selling KFC franchises, one of which remained in operation at the original location until 1988. In 1990 on what would have been Colonel Sanders’ 100th birthday, The Harland Sanders Café was renovated and reopened as a café and museum.

Today, many tourists come to Corbin from all over to dine in this iconic café while indulging in the Colonel’s history and memorabilia visible throughout the location.

“I would say about a couple of thousand come through here on a normal week,” Brock says nonchalantly, while adding that they often have tour buses filled with people coming through all the time. “Sometimes they all come on the same day at the same time” she exclaims with a giggle.

“It's actually something I enjoy doing. I get stressed out sometimes at it because there is just so much, but I really do enjoy it and it gives me a sense of accomplishment you know, to know I can do this, ” showing pride she has in doing a job she loves.

Harland Sanders started serving his famous chicken to travellers at his own dining table at the back of his service station. The kitchen in his café, pictured here, seems modest when compared to the complex food production line in the modern facilities of this fast food giant. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Tena enjoys meeting so many people from all over the country, and other countries, as they eagerly await their turn to place an order of the famed chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes, and gravy. “I love to take pictures of the customers with the Colonel sitting out there,” she adds pointing to the life size statue of the Colonel sitting on the bench, wearing his famous pair of glasses, white suit, and black string tie.

Tena’s response to technology influencing KFC’s classic handcrafted food products is simple. “I would like to stick to the original way, but I have to say technology is going to change a lot of things.” She mentions that it already has and will probably make us more efficient in serving more customers.”

After visiting the café and museum it is unmistakable that the handmade and original way, has served the brand successfully over the eighty years. As of 2020, there are an estimated 24,000 franchise locations in 145 countries.

The handmade product, and personal touches exemplified by Tena and her team, have contributed to preserving the attraction of this historic location for many decades. “They’re working on remodelling our store and adding a lot to it, which they say is going to have a big impact on this store and area,” Tena says with an irrepressible and charming smile.