Statesboro and Bulloch County are mourning the passing Saturday of Inman Hodges, a devoted family man and successful businessman, who founded the iconic Paragon Restaurant and brought KFC to the area.
“Inman was a very unique individual,” said Jimmy Hodges, a retired local banker who was a cousin of Hodges. “He and (his wife) Mary Sue had a very special relationship and were very successful in their marriage and raising a family and their business. He was a good man. He was dedicated to his family, this community and to his employees and all those that he knew.”
Hodges died Saturday at his home. He was 90 years old.
He was born in Statesboro on June 27, 1931 to Loyd Thomas and Lillie Belle Hodges. Hodges graduated from Statesboro High School and attended Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, where he met Mary Sue Lovell. The couple was married on Dec. 31, 1950 and “remained as much in love nearly 71 years later as they were on that New Year’s Eve in 1950,” Hodges’ family wrote in his obituary.
Lifelong Statesboro resident and area historian Virginia Anne Franklin Waters said: “I have had the honor to be a part of Inman and Mary Sue’s world all my life. Our parents were great friends and their daughter, Janice, is my lifelong friend. I spent countless Friday and Saturday nights at their home and vice versa.
“You can’t talk about Inman, without including Mary Sue. I’ve never known a more devoted couple that worked in tandem with their business and family and friends. They were true soul mates. Our city and county have lost one of its finest lifelong citizens. I will miss Inman and I’m honored to have called him friend.”
Hodges and his wife purchased The College Grill on South Main St. in Statesboro in 1956. It was their first restaurant that would grow into the 35 owned today by their company – The Hodges Management Company – with two more under construction. The company currently has 875 employees.
Hodges Management owns 19 KFC restaurants, six KFC/Taco Bell combo eateries, five Dairy Queens and five Taco Bell standalone restaurants. All but six restaurants are in the southeast Georgia area from Augusta to Kingsland. Four are located in South Carolina and one each in Madison, Ga., and Jefferson, Ga.
Inman Hodges Jr. took over management of the restaurants around 2005 and Inman Sr. and Mary Sue have worked out of the Statesboro office on North Main St.
“In my career as a banker, I had many occasions to work with them and had a chance to observe their business and the growth of it. Truly remarkable,” Jimmy Hodges said.
Buying The College Grill
Back in 1956, The College Grill, located where Gnat's Landing is today, 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.
“The Paragon was a very special place to go and it was a personal experience for Inman and Mary Sue,” Jimmy Hodges said. “They were always there, taking care of their customers.”
It was through the Paragon Restaurant that the Hodges’ negotiated their first franchise agreement with Kentucky Fried Chicken.
In 2007, Inman Hodges shared the story of when he visited with "Colonel Sanders" in Shelbyville, Ky., in 1963 to ask for his own franchise with then Statesboro Herald business editor Jan Moore.
"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."
In 1964, the Hodges built their first red and white striped, "California-style” KFC restaurant next to the Paragon. At that time, there were more than 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. That stayed open until 2010, when it closed shortly after the Hodges’ built a modern KFC on Buckhead Drive.
Leaving a ‘large footprint’
From there, the Hodges’ built their restaurant empire into the 35 franchises – and growing – that it is today.
“Inman was a brilliant business developer and leaves a large footprint on the restaurant industry in the South,” Waters said. “He was a man to emulate in how he conducted his business and his life. He set a high bar for both.”
Jimmy Hodges added: “His business was important to him, but his relationships with people he was involved with in his business were always most special to him. He really enjoyed having conversations with his store managers and employees and hearing their points of view.”
For his friends that knew him well, Hodges “will be missed greatly,” said Virginia Rushing Trapnell. Trapnell was friends with Hodges for “as long as I can remember.”
“He was such a generous, warm-hearted person with a heart as good as gold,” she said. “He tried to help people any way he could. With Inman’s passing, there will be a big vacancy in this community.”
The Rev. Don Sparks grew up in Portal and met Inman Hodges in Sunday School at Statesboro First United Methodist Church. Sparks said they quickly became friends and he “treasured the wonderful times I was able to spend with Inman and Mary Sue.”
One thing they shared in common was a love for a particular, and unusual, breed of hunting dog – a Treeing Feist.
“I had one named Bingo and Inman decided to get one, too,” Sparks said. “He named him Bo. We both agreed they were not only the best hunting dog but the best dog, as well. Bingo and Bo.”
The funeral service for Hodges will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Statesboro First United Methodist Church.