Dave Thomas is best known for founding Wendy’s hamburger restaurant chain. In 1989, he became the company’s TV spokesman. Even with all his success, Thomas found the need to finish his GED. But what is the reason behind it?
Dave Thomas did not finish high school. Because of his success, he felt it might encourage the younger generation to copy his path. To inspire them to stay in school, he went back and got his GED at the age of 60.
Who is Dave Thomas?
Rex David Thomas, was born on July 2, 1932, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He never knew his birth mother and was adopted by a couple from Kalamazoo, Michigan, when he was just 6 months old.
Unfortunately, Thomas’ adoptive mother died when he was only five, and by the age of 10, Thomas had lost two other stepmothers as well. He spent summers in Maine with his adoptive grandmother, Minnie Thomas, who was his closest relative and a big influence in his life.
By the time he became a teenager, his whole family moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he worked odd jobs. He was a paperboy, golf caddy, and even worked at a soda fountain counter in a drugstore.
Thomas got his first job at a restaurant when he was 15 years old. When his family decided to leave Fort Wayne, he refused to go with them. He then decided to drop out of school in the 10th grade and go to work full time instead.
After complaining that he couldn’t find a good hamburger in Columbus, Ohio, Dave Thomas opened his own restaurant on November 15, 1969. He named it Wendy’s, after his daughter who was 8-years-old at the time.
Wendy’s quickly caught on, and within less than a decade, had grown into a 1,000-store franchise. By 1989, Thomas took on the role of television spokesman for the company with a successful series. (Source: Columbus Monthly)
How Did Dave Thomas Get Into the Restaurant Business?
Thomas served in the US Army at the height of the Korean War. He was the manager of an enlisted men’s club. Upon returning to Fort Wayne, Thomas found his former boss at the Hobby House restaurant, Phil Clauss, who owned some of the first franchises of the budding Kentucky Fried Chicken chain.
Clauss offered Thomas the opportunity to move to Columbus, Ohio, to turn around the restaurants he had there. According to Clauss, they were falling apart. Because Colonel Sanders’ signature chicken had been a big hit for the Hobby House, Thomas thought he could sell it in Ohio.
By 1968, a few short years later, a 35-year-old Thomas sold the franchises back to the headquarters for $1.5 million. (Source: Biography)
Wendy’s Big Opening
Following his infamous grumbling about how a good and tasty hamburger was nowhere to be found in Columbus, he decided to make his own one. On November 15, 1969, he opened the first Wendy’s restaurant and named it after his 8-year-old daughter, Melinda Lou, known as Wendy.
She was the youngest of his five children with his wife Lorraine, whom he married in 1956. Known for its square hamburgers and choice of toppings, Wendy’s quickly rose to fame and within less than a decade had over 1,000 franchises. (Source: Biography)