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Wendy's Founder Dave Thomas Built His Business Model On a Commitment to Quality

Wendy’s success as a brand was based on its founder’s passion for shared family meals and the belief that great burgers come from fresh beef.

While Wendy’s may be one of America's most recognized burger brands, its founder, Dave Thomas, is decidedly less so. Thomas founded the brand in 1969, but his journey before the brand’s first-ever location opened its doors is what truly set his franchise up for success. 

Thomas’ dream of being in the restaurant business started back when he was 8 years old, inspired by the delicious hamburgers he ate at numerous local restaurants when he moved across the country with his father. Thomas loved watching families sitting together, enjoying each other's company and eating great food—even at such a young age, he knew the restaurant business was for him.

As a teenager, Thomas found work at local restaurants as a busboy and eventually a cook. Phil Clauss, the owner of Hobby House Restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, became Thomas’ good friend and mentor. Thomas learned almost everything about the restaurant business from him. After a stint in the military, Thomas got his first big break in 1962, when Clauss enlisted him to revive four struggling KFC franchises he’d purchased in Columbus, Ohio. After meeting and deriving inspiration from Colonel Sanders himself, Thomas succeeded n the revival, learning about franchising in the process.

Thomas had spent his spare time in Columbus on the hunt for the perfect hamburger, to no avail. In 1969, he took the leap and opened the first Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, named after his daughter, Melinda, whose nickname was Wendy. The key to market penetration for the fledgling brand at the time was its commitment to fresh beef; almost all other quick-service restaurants at the time used frozen beef to make their hamburgers. By developing the Wendy’s business model and quick-service dining concept around his belief that a quality burger should never come from frozen beef, Thomas was able to consistently and reliably deliver great food without cutting corners or compromising quality—and the rest, they say, was history.

Image courtesy of Wendy’s on Twitter.