Burgers or ads, CEO approving of excess

What scares him is effect of Obama's health reforms on personnel

Los Angeles TimesMarch 22, 2013 

BIZ CKE-PUZDER-BIZPLUS 1 LA

Andy Puzder jogs and watches what he eats, but his fast-food restaurants don't share the same "personality."

AL SEIB — MCT

Fast-food chain Hardee's is known for its bosomy brand ambassadors, debaucherous burgers and a clientele that leans toward young, hungry dudes.

But the wizard behind the curtain isn't a frat boy with a salad allergy. It's Andy Puzder, a 62-year-old jogger and devoted grandfather of six who has never met "celebutante" Paris Hilton.

Remember her? Nearly a decade ago, she shimmied into a slinky bathing suit, lathered herself up with soap suds and downed a burger atop a car in an infamous television ad for the chain.

Puzder has spent the past 12 years approving similar marketing efforts as the chief executive of CKE, which also owns Carl's Jr.

While Puzder keeps his waistline trim, his personal wellness goals haven't threatened Hardee's and Carl's Jr.'s reputations as sauce-soaked temples of caloric excess.

Outside of online menus listing good-for-you options, the brands "don't really advertise the healthy food products," Puzder said.

The company sells 20 times more Western Bacon Cheeseburgers, with 740 calories apiece, than it does BBQ chicken sandwiches, which each has 390 calories.

"It's not our personality, and it won't become our personality," Puzder said of the health craze that has swept rivals such as McDonald's. "All of our products are indulgent, decadent."

The company has locations in 42 states and 27 foreign countries. CKE's revenue last year was $1.3 billion. Including franchisees, the gauge reached $3.8 billion.

But Puzder foresees problems because of President Barack Obama's health care reforms, which he said will be "a big problem for American businesses" when they go into effect in 2014.

He expects the rules, which will require large companies to offer health coverage to full-time employees, to cause a boost in part-time positions.

Four in 10 workers at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's are on part-time schedules. Paying to cover the rest won't be cheap, he said.

"We're doing what we can to keep the costs in line," he said.

He said the company will stick to promoting premium products such as its Six Dollar Burger. "You can demean your product if you're locked into a price point," he said. "We'd rather have a message of value for the money rather than one about ... bottom-feeder stuff."

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