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Dave Thomas is best known for founding the Wendy's hamburger restaurant chain. He became the company's TV spokesman in 1989.
Dave Thomas - Mini Biography (2:15)
Colonel Sanders - Mini Bio (2:11)
Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas found enormous success with his fast food chain, despite coming from humble beginnings.
Colonel Sanders is synonymous with Kentucky Fried Chicken. He created the recipe, franchised it, and earned worldwide fame.
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After complaining that he couldn't find a good hamburger in Columbus, Ohio, Dave Thomas opened his own restaurant on November 15, 1969: Wendy's, named after Thomas's 8-year-old daughter. Wendy's quickly caught on, and within less than a decade, had grown into a 1,000-store franchise. In 1989, Thomas took on the role of television spokesman for the company with a series of hugely successful commercials. He died in Florida in 2002.
Dave Thomas, famed founder of the Wendy's restaurant chain and television spokesman, was born Rex David Thomas on July 2, 1932, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Thomas never knew his birth mother, and was adopted by a couple from Kalamazoo, Michigan, when he was 6 months old. Thomas's adoptive mother died when he was only five, and by the age of 10 Thomas had lost two 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.
When Thomas was still a pre-teen, his family (his father, Rex, had remarried again) moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he worked at such jobs as a paperboy, golf caddy, and at a soda fountain counter in a drugstore. Thomas got his first job at a restaurant when he was 15 years old, and when his family decided to leave Fort Wayne to move again, he refused to leave, dropping out of school in the 10th grade and going to work full time.
Thomas served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War as 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, 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, which were failing. Colonel Sanders's signature chicken had been a big hit for the Hobby House and 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.
After complaining that he couldn't find a good hamburger in Columbus, Thomas decided to open his own restaurant. On November 15, 1969, he opened the first Wendy's restaurant, named for his eight-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 caught on and within less than a decade grew into a franchise of 1,000 stores.
In 1982, Thomas gave up command of day-to-day operations at Wendy's. Four years later, after some business mistakes had hurt sales for Wendy's, the company's new president urged Thomas to take a more active role in the company. Thomas began to visit franchises and espouse his hardworking, so-called "mop-bucket attitude." In 1989, he took on an even more important role, as the television spokesman for the company in a series of fantastically successful commercials.
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