California has changed dramatically since 1941, when Carl and Margaret Karcher scraped together about 325 bucks to start a hot dog cart in Los Angeles – a precursor to a drive-through restaurant they opened in Anaheim and which grew into the Carl’s Jr. fast-food empire. The Karchers were household names in Southern California, not just for their restaurants but for their activism in conservative politics and Catholic charities.
Whatever you think of the Karchers’ politics, you’ve got to love the entrepreneurial story that surrounds their success and what it said about California in its heyday. The Karchers – he died in 2008 and she in 2006 – came to the Land of Opportunity from the staid backwater of Upper Sandusky, Ohio.
California has beckoned many Midwesterners – and people from every part of America and the globe – not just because of its pleasant weather, but because of a culture of openness that allowed creative people to go as far as their ideas would take them. Unfortunately, people with energy and creativity are now likely to go elsewhere, to places where the state government has different attitudes toward the private sector.
Indeed, CKE Restaurants, parent of Carl’s Jr., is likely to move its headquarters from Carpinteria, near Ventura, to Texas and is undergoing a rapid expansion of restaurants in the Lone Star State. Right before the budget circus got going Wednesday, CKE CEO Andrew Puzder spoke at the California Chamber of Commerce, blocks from the Capitol dome. Like most of us, Puzder loves California and has no interest in leaving it, but he told harrowing tales about doing business in a state that has gone from an entrepreneurial heaven to a bureaucratic nightmare.
“It costs us $250,000 more to build one California restaurant than in Texas,” he said. “And once it is opened, we’re not allowed to run it.” This explains why Carl’s is opening 300 restaurants in Texas and only maintaining its presence in California. Texas has lower taxes than California, but the reason for the shift has more to do with regulation and with the attitude of the respective governments.
Puzder complained about the permitting process here, where it takes eight months to two years to open a new restaurant compared to an average of 1 1/2 months in Texas. In California, restaurants have to provide new curb cuts, new traffic lights, you name it. The company must endure so many requirements and must submit to so many inspections that it becomes excessively costly – and the bureaucrats are in charge of the project.
Once the restaurant is open, Puzder said, the store’s general managers are not allowed to run the business as if they own it. That’s the key to the company’s customer service approach – allowing general managers to do whatever it takes to make customers happy. But California’s inflexible, union-designed work rules, for instance, classify general managers as regular employees. They must be paid overtime for any work beyond an eight-hour day. They must take mandated breaks at specified times.