Dave Thomas was born on July 2, 1932 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. When he was six weeks old, he was adopted by a Michigan couple named Rex and Auleva Thomas. The adoption should have meant that young Dave had a permanent home and a normal family life. However, when he was just five years old, Auleva became ill with rheumatic fever and she passed away. From that time on, Dave Thomas moved around the country with his adopted father as the elder man searched for work.
Dave loved to eat at family restaurants. It wasn’t the food so much that attracted him to this type of eatery, it was the family atmosphere. He loved to watch the families eating, chatting, and having a good time together while they shared a meal. These scenes influenced Dave heavily. He was but a young man when he decided that he wanted to open up his own family restaurant.
When he was just twelve years old, still a child and not even a teen yet, Dave took his first job delivering groceries. That job didn’t pan out, so he became a soda jerk at Walgreens. Unfortunately, that job ended when his boss discovered that Dave wasn’t sixteen years old, the minimum required age for employment.
Still determined to find a job, Dave found employment at The Regas Restaurant.
Then, when he was fifteen, he worked at the Hobby House Restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His family packed up and moved again. This time, however, young Dave stayed behind. He lived by himself in a room at the local YMCA. Dave didn’t feel that he needed much education, so he quit high school and began to work fulltime.
Dave Thomas’ eighteenth birthday came, and he signed up for a stint in the Army.
When he returned home, he returned to work at the Hobby House Restaurant. It was there that he met an attractive waitress named Lorraine. He and Lorraine were married in 1954.
By now, the restaurant business was in Dave Thomas’ blood. After working for other restaurant owners, he longed to open up his own restaurant. In 1956, that dream came true when he and his boss at the time, a man by the name of Phil Clauss, opened The Ranch House Restaurant. Dave had finally accomplished his goal of a lifetime- he owned his own family restaurant. However, he couldn’t have imagined that the best was yet to come.
While he and his partner operated The Ranch House Restaurant, Dave Thomas met another entrepreneur. You may have heard of him. His name was Colonel Harland Sanders. Sanders had founded the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. Phil Clauss purchased a franchise from the Colonel, and Dave now found himself selling chicken.
A few years later, in 1962, Clauss offered Dave the opportunity of a lifetime. Clauss had four Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants that were performing poorly. He told Dave that, if he could make all four restaurants profitable again, he would reward him with a forty-five per cent interest in his business.
Dave Thomas was no quitter, and he was no slouch. He went straight to work on reviving the ailing restaurants. The first item on his agenda was to pare the menu down so that the main focus was on the chicken. And, Dave used some creative advertising techniques.
After some time, Dave turned the four restaurants around and made them profitable again. On top of that, he also started four more Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants!
When Dave Thomas was just thirty-five years old in 1968, he was already a millionaire. Phil Clauss had sold the franchises back to the corporate Kentucky Fried Chicken and made over a million dollars from the sale.
Finally, in 1969, after already having a successful career in the restaurant business, Dave opened his first Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburger Restaurant Stock:WEN) in Columbus, Ohio. He chose the name “Wendy” because it was his youngest daughter’s nickname.
That first Wendy’s restaurant soon multiplied, and Dave’s hamburger chain is now ranked number three. The Ohio-based Wendy’s Corporation operates about 6,000 restaurants in the United States and Canada with sales totaling more than $7 billion.
Sadly, cancer of the liver ended Dave Thomas’ life on January 8, 2002. He passed away at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 69 years old. His remains were buried at the Union Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.