60 years of ‘finger lickin’ good’
By Bill Kirby Jr.
When it comes to that “finger-lickin good” fried chicken, Steve Paris can tell you all about it.
He learned from the Colonel.
“He was a Southern gentleman,” Paris says about meeting with the late Colonel Harland Sanders, who began selling his “secret recipe” fried chicken in 1952 at his roadside restaurant in North Corbin, Kentucky, and soon franchised what today just about everybody knows as Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Dena Fasul Potter throws up her hands, with a reminder to Paris that the Colonel could be a bit brusque.
“He cursed like a sailor,” she said with a smile.
Dena Fasul Potter should know.
She’s the daughter of the late Nick Fasul, who, along with Paris, brought the first KFC on Aug. 2, 1961, to what then was known as the Hillcrest Drive-In Restaurant atop the hill on Bragg Boulevard.
The Paris & Potter Management Corp. this month celebrates 60 years of bringing 27 KFC restaurants to the Cape Fear Region, including seven in Cumberland County, and the first in 1961 to North Carolina.
All of it came about when Nick Fasul owned the old Milk Bar on Bragg Boulevard and his nephew, Steve Paris, 23, had arrived here on June 5, 1956, from Lyrkia, Greece, the little village outside of Argos. Paris lived with the Fasul family on Dick Street downtown and worked at the Milk Bar, where hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and milkshakes were staples on the menu of the popular restaurant replete with curbside carhops.
Nick Fasul subscribed to Restaurant South magazine and came across an advertisement for anyone interested in joining the KFC franchise. Fasul inquired, Paris tells the story, and the Colonel sent ‘em off to Lynchburg, Virginia, to a restaurant called Lendy’s to sample the chicken.
“It was an item in the store,” Paris says. “We liked the flavors. KFC is cooked under pressure. It’s delicious and tender, with 11 herbs and spices. That is the proprietary KFC recipe. We told him we liked it. I arranged to go to Louisville.”
Paris headed to Kentucky in his black 1956 Chevrolet Impala. He checked into a Louisville motel and later met with the Colonel at his Shelbyville home that included the colonel’s office in the back of the home with his secretary, Mrs. Maurine McGuire.
“Good morning,” Colonel Harland Sanders greeted Paris. “You’re from Fayetteville, North Carolina, and you want to be a franchisee. You’re mighty young.” But the Colonel took a liking to Steve Paris.
Steve Paris was a hard worker at 23 and is today at age 84. You never see him without a pleasant smile and a warm way. You’ll find him working long hours and checking
on the Paris & Potter Management Corp. restaurants from Fayetteville to Spring Lake, Hope Mills, Dunn, Clinton and beyond. “I told him I was staying at a motel,” Paris says of that meeting with the Colonel. “He called the motel and canceled my reservation. He said, ‘You stay with me and my family.’ I stayed with him every day for two weeks. We went to Louisville. He taught me about the quality of shortening, the mixing of milk and eggs for dipping chicken. How to do mashed potatoes, and about the gravy. The gravy … that was his pride and joy.” Hence, the Hillcrest Drive-In Restaurant was born.
AUGUST 2, 1961
Construction on the restaurant with the long, glass windows began in 1961, and the restaurant opened Aug. 2, with employees to include Mike Pagos, Danny Ewing, Arthur Samanis, James “Slim” White, Daisy Lybrand, Vera Zelzak and Thomas Farmer.
Hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries cost 25 cents; cheeseburgers 35 cents; onion rings 30 cents; hamburger steaks 85 cents; soft drinks a dime; milkshakes a quarter; and two pieces of KFC chicken for 69 cents; three pieces of KFC chicken for $1.10; nine pieces of KFC chicken for $2.25; a Family KFC Bucket for $3.50; and a barrel of KFC – 21 pieces – for $4.95.
Katherine Fasul remembers working at the restaurant as a cashier in the summers of 1962 and 1963 during her years at Greensboro College, and in the summers after she became a fifth- grade schoolteacher, including five years at VanStory Elementary. Her sister, Anna Fasul Finch, also worked at the restaurant in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I did so enjoy getting to know many of our wonderful repeat customers,” Katherine Fasul says. “We all worked hard, but also had fun. Arthur Samanis, our friend and co-worker, was always making us laugh when we were fortunate to have a break. My cousin, Steve Paris, and my Uncle Mike Pagos along with James “Slim” White were the fastest workers. I have many good memories of those years.”
So does Anna Fasul Finch.
“For a short period of time, when I was14, my sister Elaine and I became the ‘Ice and Change Brigade’ for the Hillcrest,” she says. “And we had to be ready on any weekend night for the ‘ice and change run.’ My dad would call my mother and say, ‘Send the girls to Colonial Ice to get ice.’ This would occur mostly on pay-day weekends when the ice machine could not put out enough ice in time. Other times it was a run to VEMCO, a vending machine company located downtown on Hay Street, to get change in coins. Later, when we were both in high school, Elaine and I managed time to join the Friday or Saturday night Boulevard caravan and cruise the Hillcrest, usually with our friends Angie and Hedy Vurnakes.”
Elaine Fasul died at age 22 on March 13, 1970, the result of an automobile accident in Durham.
Anna Fasul Finch worked at the restaurant in the summer when attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and after her graduation in 1971. She later joined the Paris & Potter Management Corp. team in 1979.
All the while, Steve Paris was busy, even ordering and erecting a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket highway sign that towered along Bragg Boulevard.
“The Colonel authorized it,” he tells Dena
Potter. “Your dad really got upset with me.
We got the bucket sign. We doubled our business the next month. We were selling 1,000 heads of chicken a day in the mid 1960s. Every year we were increasing our volume and doing better and better.”
And the Hillcrest had become something else – a social gathering place for high school teenagers from Fayetteville High School after Friday night football games, on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, too.
It was a time of innocence, and the Hillcrest was a part of their young lives.
‘WE WANTED TO EXPAND’
Nick Fasul, because of heart issues, retired from the business by 1967, when Dena Fasul’s late husband, Ralph Potter, a lawyer, joined the business with Paris. He would work in the courthouse as a prosecutor by day and at the Hillcrest by night.
KFC had become an American tradition that reached worldwide. A KFC was a popular stop for college kids planning a football tailgate party and the place to be after a Sunday morning sermon.
“We wanted to expand,” Paris says. “One store was not enough for three families – my family, the Fasul girls and the Potter family.”
Ralph M. Potter was 75 when he died June 12, 2012, at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Today, son Nick Potter follows in his father’s footsteps as chief operating officer of the corporation.
Nick Potter, who joined the business on Aug. 8, 1994, shares Paris’ appreciation of customers in the 60th anniversary.
“We talk about how wonderful our customers have been to us,” he says. “They have been so loyal, and in the COVID 19 health pandemic even more when our dining rooms were closed. Our customers have been there through thick and thin with us, and we could not be more thankful to them.”
Truth be told, KFC in the Cape Fear region has been a Fasul, Paris and Potter affair since Steve Paris drove his black 1956 Chevrolet Impala to Shelbyville, Kentucky, to meet with Colonel Harland Sanders in 1961.
Dena Fasul Potter, Anna Fasul Finch and Katherine Fasul have been members of the Paris & Potter Management Corp. since its formation, dating to 1961. Rebecca Potter Cooke, daughter of Ralph and Dena Potter, has been with the corporation since 1998. Theodoros Perivolaris and Delia Paris, son and daughter of Steve Paris, have been part of the corporation’s personnel department.
Colonel Harland Sanders sold his KFC franchise in 1964 but remained a KFC ambassador and still is its signature icon. He died at age 90 in 1980.
Still, the KFC brand embraces the Fasul, Paris and Potter family in its 60th anniversary celebration.
“Mr. Paris has been a KFC franchisee almost since the birth of the brand, and his passion for the business has never waned,” says Kevin Hochman, president, KFC U.S. “He uses his own story of success to encourage others to look forward to growth. We’re proud to have had him as part of the KFC family for 60 years and look forward to many more.”
Steve Paris calls himself blessed.
“I feel very good, very lucky and thank God every day,” he says. “I am thinking about the opportunity available to me coming to this country. When you are young, you dream of a better opportunity. A better life. I think of my uncle Nick Fasul. And I very much appreciate the people of Fayetteville and Cumberland County for their long support of us and our many employees.”
As for the Colonel’s secret recipe, we still don’t know.
Neither does Steve Paris.
But one secret is out of the bag.
“Mother always cooked chicken on Sunday with white gravy,” Dena Fasul Potter says about Eleftheria Fasul, the late Fasul family matriarch. “After we opened the Hillcrest, she never fried another piece of chicken.”