Rocky Mount, N.C. — The memories were thicker than the burgers Monday as the first Hardee's franchise restaurant was torn down to make way for a park.
The restaurant on North Church Street, known within the chain as Building No. 1, opened in Rocky Mount on May 5, 1961, and was famous for 15-cent hamburgers and 10-cent drinks.
Wilbur Hardee opened his first hamburger stand a year earlier in Greenville, and it was so popular that Jim Gardner and Leonard Rawls bought a franchise and opened the Rocky Mount store that became the foundation for a national fast-food chain that now includes 2,400 restaurants.
Hardee's was based in Rocky Mount until 2001, when its parent company CKE Restaurants Inc. consolidated administrative offices in California.
Dozens of former employees and Rocky Mount residents gathered near the building Monday for a hamburger lunch and to share their memories.
"I remember the long lines. They had lines of people all day, it seemed like," said Fred West, who worked the counter at the Rocky Mount Hardee's during its early years.
Monday's demolition was bittersweet, West said.
"It just brings back a lot of memories to me. It's like part of me, almost, is being gone," he said.
Some people wanted the restaurant, which has been vacant for 10 years, to become a museum. Instead, the site will be turned into a veterans memorial and park named for Jack Laughery, a veteran and former chairman of Hardee's.
Laughery died in 2006 following a four-year battle with cancer.
"To have Jack's name forever linked to his fellow veterans, Hardee's and Rocky Mount moving forward captures his spirit perfectly," said Laughery's widow, Helen Laughery.
Local officials said they hope to have the park open by November to celebrate Veterans Day.
"I think it's good that we appreciate our past and acknowledge that, but let it be a base for looking to our future," Rocky Mount Mayor Fred Turnage said.