The history of Sanders Court and Café in Asheville

Learn about one of the world’s largest food chains beginnings in the Land of the Sky.


This vintage postcard shows the Asheville Sanders Court and Café in its heyday.

Photo by AVLtoday

In an odd-yet-delicious piece of history, did you know KFC’s fried chicken fame has roots in Asheville?

Let’s take it back to 1930. After a string of failed business ventures, Harland Sanders (aka Colonel Sanders — although he didn’t have that title just yet) bought a roadside motel in Corbin, Kentucky. He called it Sanders Court and Café, with the combination gas station, motel, and cafe offering country ham, steak, and its soon-to-be-iconic fried chicken.

By 1939, Sanders had been dubbed an honorary Colonel and developed the (still) secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. The original Sanders Court and Café was doing well — so well that he opened a second Sanders Court and Café here in Asheville at 375 Weaverville Hwy. Postcards for the motor court boast “tile baths, (abundance of hot water), carpeted floors, ‘Perfect Sleeper’ beds, air conditioned, steam heated, radio in every room, open all year, serving excellent food.”

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Read about all that Sanders Courts had to offer.

Photo by AVLtoday

But just a few years later in 1942, gasoline rationing and US involvement in WWII caused a decline in tourism, ultimately leading to the location’s closure. But that wasn’t the end for Sanders Court and Café. Locals Lee and Helen Roberts (parents of local author Terry Roberts, who grew up on the property) owned and operated the location from 1948 to ~1975, although a fire that was estimated to have happened in the winter of 1956 to 1957 closed the restaurant.

Flash forward to today and Asheville’s former Sanders Court and Café is now an apartment complex, Sanders Courts. Renovated by Asheville Rentals, the apartments still have a similar look to the old motor court with small dormers on the roof. It may not be serving up fried chicken these days, but the court at least preserves the finger-lickin’ history.

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