Dave Thomas was an orphan. Growing up, eating hamburgers in restaurants was the only thing that gave him a sense of belonging and purpose. When he was 8-years-old, he set out a plan to open the best restaurant in the world and later founded Wendy’s.
But even at an early age Dave knew that in order to grow a successful business, he was prepared to learn everything about the business from the ground up.
15 year old Dave started as a busboy at a Hobby House Restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana where a guy named Cornel Sanders was touring the country, trying to convince restaurant owners into converting their buildings into Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises.
Thomas’ boss, Hobby House owner Phil Clauss, was one of those restaurant owners. Hobby House became Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Thomas became one of KFC’s first cooks.
A new waitress, Lorraine Buskirk, caught his eye and they were soon married in 1954.
Dave and his wife Lorraine grew their family to include five children – Pam, Ken, Lori, Molly and Melinda (Wendy was her nickname and who Dave named the business after). All the while, Dave worked toward his goal of owning his own restaurant.
He was pivotal in helping grow KFC. He simplified the menu and came up with the classic rotating red bucket sign. Thomas also convinced the colonel to appear in TV ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Thomas’ success eventually enabled him to sell his stake in the four franchises back to the colonel, for $1.5 million. He used the money to open his first Wendy’s and became multimillionaire by the age of 35.
Today there are 6,900 restaurants worldwide.
Dave Thomas passed away in 2002 with a net worth of $4.2 billion.