Business Stories

Dave Thomas – From Early Life Tragedies to Success

shutterstock_318535220Dave Thomas is the guy we can thank for some of the most delicious burgers to have ever graced the earth and our palettes. It was this guy who founded Wendy’s, a household name in the fast food industry, and who turned it into the billion-dollar chain it is today. However, Dave Thomas’ beginnings were not as smooth-sailing as one would hope.

Born on July 2, 1932 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Dave never got to know or meet his birth mother. Dave was adopted by a couple from Michigan when he was six months old, but his adoptive mother passed away when we was only five years old. Dave never had a solid mother figure as he also lost two stepmothers before even reaching the age of ten. His biggest influence in his life and closest family member was his adoptive grandmother Minnie Thomas, with whom he would spend summers during his childhood.

Later on, Dave’s father, Rex, who had remarried, moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. There, Dave worked several jobs such as a paperboy, golf caddy, and a counter in a drugstore. When he was 15, Dave was first exposed to the food and service industry through his first job. When his family decided to move again and leave Indiana, Dave refused to go. He then dropped out of school in the 10th grade and worked full time.

The US entered war with Korea, and during the war, Dave served in the U.S. Army as the manager of a men’s club. He returned to Fort Wayne and found his former boss, Phil Clauss, who owned some franchises of the thriving Kentucky Fried Chicken chain. Clauss offered Dave the opportunity to help turn around some of the failing franchises in Columbus, Ohio – and he was able to do just that. After a few years, Dave was able to earn $1.5 million by selling the franchises back to headquarters as they flourished.

Dave, being passionate about food, found it hard to find a good burger in Columbus. This tiny complaint soon turned into a multi-million dollar business after he decided to open the first Wendy’s restaurant in 1969. Wendy’s caught a lot of attention and popularity, most notably for their square burgers and array of toppings. Within a decade, Wendy’s turned into a thousand-store franchise.

In 1982, Dave gave up command of Wendy’s operations, but he had to come back a few years later after some business mistakes had injured Wendy’s financial stability. He took on an active role, upon the insistence of the president of Wendy’s then, and he began visiting each franchise to inspire employees with his “mop-bucket attitude.” Soon, this proved to be an effective strategy. He soon became the television spokesman for the company, appearing in many Wendy’s commercials in the 90’s. He became so famous and successful, that almost all Americans knew who Dave Thomas was. His charming personality and relaxed pitch drove a lot of Americans to love the Dave Thomas brand, and eventually propelled Wendy’s to rise as one of the US’s most well-loved fast food chains.

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