Friday, May 27, 2011

Founding Family Humbled by the Depression

The history of Boddie-Noell Enterprises is very much a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. The lineage of the Boddie family can be traced as far back as William Boddie, a captain in the English navy during the reign of Henry VIII. The Boddies emigrated to America in the 1660s and in 1790 established a sprawling, 10,000-acre plantation in North Carolina called Rose Hill. But with the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865, the family fortunes went into steady decline. By 1926 the property was mortgaged and during the Depression of the 1930s the family could not keep up with the payments on the farm, now reduced to just 700 acres, on which Nicholas Bunn Boddie grew tobacco, corn, and cotton. The property was sold off and the family, on the verge of poverty, was forced to move to a small house owned by his mother-in-law. They scraped by, selling chickens and eggs at the local farmer's markets, until Boddie found work in the Employment Security Commission office, a job he held until his death in 1951. A few years before he died, however, he established a small fuel-oil delivery business. His two sons, Nick and younger brother Mayo, would become the driving force behind the foundation and growth of Boddie-Noell Enterprises.

Both Nick and Mayo Boddie had little use for college, eager to establish themselves in business. Nick dropped out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1949, attracted to the high wages being offered in Alaska. After several months of working in a gold mine, on the railroad, and in a rock quarry, he returned to North Carolina to assume less arduous employment at a hotel his aunt acquired after her husband died. He liked the work and later opened a motel and restaurant, Carleton House. It was named after an Uncle, Carleton Noell, a vice-president at Garrett Tobacco Co., who provided the financing. In the meantime, Mayo, two years younger, also began college at the University of North Carolina, only to find the classroom too stifling, convinced that the world was passing him by. After a year-and-a-half he dropped out intending to join the Navy. Instead, he married his high school sweetheart, joined the reserves, and worked for the railroad until his father passed away and he took over the fuel delivery business. But he soon shut it down, unhappy about working in a business that relied on the extension of credit. He took a number of jobs over the next several years, and then opened a cut-rate gas station, taking advantage of two 6,000-gallon tanks he owned to buy gasoline in volume. By the 1960s he owned three gas stations as well as a pair of laundromats. Both Nick and Mayo Boddie were successful businessmen, big fish in the town of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, with a population significantly less than 40,000. Neither was content, however, to spend the rest of his life doing more of the same. Then, in 1961, a chance arose to become involved with the Hardee's hamburger chain on the ground floor.

In 1960 Wilbur Hardee opened a McDonald's knockoff in Greenville, North Carolina. His accountant was Leonard Rawls, who had attended high school with the Boddies and also did Mayo's books. Rawls teamed up with another high school friend, Jim Gardner, to franchise the Hardee's concept and tried to convince the Boddie brothers to become franchisees. However, they simply could not understand how it was possible to make money by selling hamburgers at 15 cents a piece. When Rawls and Gardner opened a Hardee's in Rocky Mount, the Boddies saw the lines that formed to buy those 15-cent hamburgers, and they became convinced that they could make a profit in fast food.



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