Everybody knows her face. The fire-red pigtails, the blue bows, the dusting of freckles. Wendy, the namesake and iconic logo of the fast food hamburger giant, is a genuine piece of Americana, spotted on nearly every highway and in every city across the country.
Though the story of how Wendy’s got its name is simple, the story of how the company started is a bit more complicated and starts with Dave Thomas and his grand ambition to own a successful restaurant.
Image Source: Under Construction
Thomas was born in Atlantic City, NJ in 1932 and adopted by Auleva and Rex Thomas when he was a baby. Thomas was ambitious from an early age. He started working when he was just 12 years old at a restaurant in Knoxville, TN, where he’d moved with his father sometime after his mother passed away. He then got a job at a Walgreens as a soda jerk before moving on to a job at the Hobby House Restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
At 18, he decided to enlist in the army during the Korean War and used his restaurant experience to his advantage. He was stationed in Germany and given the job of a mess sergeant, which meant that he oversaw feeding 2,000 meals a day for hungry, hardworking soldiers. Thomas would later credit this experience as being crucially formative to the quick paced world of fast food.
Fast-forward a few years and Thomas is back in Fort Wayne working at the Hobby House Restaurant again, where he has become the head chef. A few months into this position, he meets the only fast food impresario that is even more recognizable than him, Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.
Colonel Sanders wasn’t famous quite yet, and KFC had actually been struggling over the preceding years, but the Colonel wasn’t dissuaded. He thought that the Clauss family who owned the Hobby House Restaurant would be the perfect people to franchise KFC in Fort Wayne.
SEE ALSO: Why is KFC Called KFC?
After a little reluctance, the Clausses decided to go ahead and jump into the KFC game. Then Thomas, himself, began working for the Colonel, moving to Columbus, Ohio where he eventually owned four of his own KFCs and was instrumental in creating a number of important changes to the franchise, like the gigantic red and white chicken bucket sign that was so iconic.
Why is it Called Wendy’s?
Wanting to strike out on his own, Thomas decided to sell his KFCs back to the Colonel and opened his first Wendy’s location at 257 E. Broad Street in Columbus in 1969. Being a family man, he chose to name the restaurant after his fourth child, Melinda Lou “Wendy” Thomas, now Thomas-Morse. Her nickname was Wendy because, as a child, she had trouble pronouncing her real name.
Image Source: Wendy’s
The young girl’s portrait was displayed in the very first Wendy’s, with her now legendary red, pigtail hairdo. Eventually, Wendy got into the business herself, and now owns 30 Wendy’s restaurants and has even appeared in a number of the company’s commercials.
Though Dave Thomas took something of a circuitous route to opening his first Wendy’s, the name is as classic as their old-fashioned hamburgers. Can you think of any other famous franchises that are named after the owner’s family? Comment below!
Travis McDonald is a professional freelance writer who creates content for a wide variety of clients. He received his bachelor’s in English from The University of Texas at Austin and his MFA in creative writing from Virginia Tech.