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Hodges family builds strong restaurant business

from 1 franchise 40 years ago to 19 today

    Quietly, garnering little to no attention, the Inman Hodges family has built a mini-empire of 19 quick-serve restaurants from their unassuming offices on North Main Street in Statesboro. The Hodges have turned a single franchise agreement made with the Kentucky Fried Chicken Company (KFC) more than 40 years ago into an enviable empire of fast-food restaurants stretching from Hampton, S.C., to Brunswick in South Georgia.

            "I have worked with the Hodges’ for over 30 years, and they are very pleasant, good, good people," said Phil Campbell, a sales representative of Claxton Poultry, the company which supplies chicken to the Hodges' chain of restaurants. "They are held in very high regard at KFC corporate."

            The Hodges foray into the restaurant business did not begin with their purchase of a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. In 1956, Inman Hodges and his wife Mary Sue bought the College Grill. Located on South Main Street where Gnat's Landing is today, the College Grill was a popular gathering place for locals and college students.

            In 1957, the Hodges rebuilt the College Grill into the Paragon Restaurant, a full service restaurant offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was through the Paragon Restaurant that the Hodges negotiated their first franchise agreement with Kentucky Fried Chicken.

            "I noticed that the Kentucky Friend Chicken franchise in Savannah was doing pretty well," he said. "I would go down there on occasion to see how they were doing and decided that it was a good thing."

            Hodges decided to visit the "Colonel" in Shelbyville, Ky., to ask for his own franchise.

            "At that time the Colonel was selling franchises to existing restaurants, and he wanted to put his product on your menu, and that 's what we did," Hodges said. "We put it on our table service menu at the Paragon."

            "There wasn't any up front franchise fee, we just had to pay them $.04 cents for each chicken that we sold. It was a royalty."

            With the purchase of their first KFC franchise, KFC chicken was served both on the Paragon menu and from the new "take-out" window. Mary Sue Hodges said the chicken was cooked on a four burner gas stove in a 16 quart pressure cooker with each chicken cut into pieces by hand.

            In 1964, the Hodges built their first red and white striped, "California" style KFC restaurant next to the Paragon. At that time, there were over 600 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in the United States and Canada. In that same year, Sanders sold his concept to a group of investors, remaining as a spokesman for the company.

            In 1970, the Hodges constructed a new KFC on North Main Street, and the original building on South Main Street was demolished.

            The Hodges did not build another KFC until 1977 when they opened one in Hinesville.

            Inman Hodges said they really weren't able to do any more expansion with KFC until purchasing the Savannah market in 1983.

            "We really didn't have anywhere to expand until then," he said. "So, in 1974, we built and operated the Pizza Inn restaurant on South Main Street."

            Wildly popular with local teenagers and college students, the Pizza Inn was operated successfully by the Hodges until they sold it in the mid 1990's.

            The Hodges now operate 19 KFC restaurants, some in conjunction with other concepts such as Long John Silvers and Taco Bell. They are currently building another KFC on Chatham Parkway in Savannah and are in the process of finalizing plans for two Dairy Queen Grill and Chill(s) - one in Richmond Hill, and one in Rincon.

            "Inman, Jr. (Hodges) oversees the operations within the restaurants," Inman Hodges, Sr. said. "He is in the restaurants every day. We handle the operations such as accounting and the like from our office here on North Main Street. It is a good set-up that has allowed us to expand."

            Hodges' wife, Mary Sue, continues to play an integral role in the company serving in an executive capacity as part of the decision making process that affects all of the stores.

            Georgia Southern University graduate Charlton Calhoun has served as controller of the Hodges Management Company for the last nine years.

            "We have about 500 employees total including our office in Statesboro," Calhoun said. "That's quite a few. But, we have been very fortunate to keep a good, core management staff in our restaurants. Personnel is a major challenge, and probably the most difficult one that we face."

            One of the company's most valued employees is John Santi. Santi has served as manager of Hodges' Abercorn KFC for the last 20 years.

            "The Hodges are fair and upright people, and I have enjoyed working for them," Santi said. "I do have to tell sort of a funny story though on Mr. Inman Hodges, Sr."

            "I have this fellow that comes into the restaurant in the mornings before we open to help clean. One morning, Mr. Hodges popped in and pointed out to this fellow something that needed to be done. He promptly told Mr. Hodges that he didn't work for him, he worked for Mr. Santi. Mr. Hodges got a kick out of that, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get this fellow to understand who the big boss was. Mr. Hodges said that as long as he did what he was supposed to do, who cares."

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