A Few Facts About Dave Thomas, Founder of Wendy’s

By Phin Upham

If you grew up anywhere from 1970 to 1990, you most likely remember Dave Thomas on TV. He was the founder of Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers. He personally endorsed his restaurant chain, becoming a familiar face in the process, more than 800 times over 10 years. To this day, he is still noted as the only founder of a company to have appeared in his own commercials in history.

Thomas started working at 12 years old, a fine dining establishment in Knoxville, but he was young and impulsive. He had a disagreement with his boss and lost his job over it, vowing never to lose a job again.

He stayed behind when his family decided to move, and he took a new job working for the Hobby House Restaurant. One day, as though it were fate, Colonel Sanders himself walked through the doors of the restaurant. The two became immediate friends and Sanders became a mentor to Thomas.

Thomas served in the Korean War, as a cook, and he served food to troops in Germany. He returned to the Hobby House in Fort Wayne during 1953, the year he was honorably discharged from the army.

When he returned, he bought 4 KFC restaurants and changed their menus. At the time, ordering at KFC was fairly complicated with many options to choose from. Thomas simplified that menu, and used it to revitalize the locations. The other franchises took notice, and Thomas sold them for $1.5 million dollars a piece. With that money, he began the Wendy’s food chain. Wendy’s pioneered the drive-thru, a concept nearly every fast food restaurant uses today.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or LinkedIn page.