Before he served millions of customers a day, Wendy's founder Dave Thomas started a tad smaller - serving 2000 soldiers a day as a mess sergeant stationed overseas during the Korean War, throughout his years of service in the US Army.
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DAVE THOMAS
Founder, Wendy's Food Chain

David "Dave" Thomas was an American restaurant owner and philanthropist, founder of the mega-successful fast food franchise Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers. But before he served millions a day, Dave Thomas started a tad smaller - serving 2000 soldiers a day as a mess sergeant stationed overseas during the Korean War, throughout his years of service in the US Army.

Dave Thomas was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and grew up with adoptive parents. Thomas first became involved in the restaurant industry at age 12, when he got a job at the Regas Restaurant in Knoxville, TN. By age 15, Thomas was working hard as busboy at the Hobby House restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, rather than working at his studies in high school. Thomas subsequently dropped out of high school and didn't graduate until he earned his GED later in his adult life. Much later, he earned an honorary membership at Duke University's Sigma Phi Epsilon.

While living in Michigan and eating at the local Kewpee restaurant which sold square hamburgers and thick milkshakes, Thomas had an inspiration to go into the restaurant business himself.

But then came the Korean War. Thomas, then 18 years old, volunteered for the US Army. Building on his prior food production and service experience, Thomas requested to be stationed at the Cook's and Baker's School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was eventually sent overseas to Germany as a mess sergeant, responsible for the daily meals of 2000 soldiers. Thomas later credited his success in fast food to his military experience feeding large groups of hungry soldiers daily.

Dave Thomas was honorably discharged in 1953, with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

After his discharge, Thomas returned to the restaurant business, receiving an opportunity to work at a failing Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise restaurant. Thomas successfully turned the KFC around by simplifying the menu. Working with KFC founder Col. Harland Sanders, Thomas pared down the KFC menu to basic fried chicken and salads, and thus increased sales. Little did he know at the time that this move would revolutionize the entire fast food industry.

Thomas became part of KFC management, in charge of 300 stores, but it wasn't long before he wanted a restaurant of his own. Thus, Thomas opened his first Wendy's in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969. He began franchising the Wendy's concept in 1973 and resigned from his day-to-day operations at Wendy's in 1983.

In 1989, however, Thomas resumed a more active role with Wendy's, visiting franchises and inspiring owners with his hardworking attitude.

It was also 1989 when Thomas became the highly-visible Wendy's spokesman appearing in successful TV commercials which made both Thomas and Wendy's household names.

Thomas died at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, of liver cancer. At the time of his death, there were more than 6,000 Wendy's restaurants operating in North America. By then, Thomas' grandfatherly face and image appeared in more than 800 commercials for Wendy's from 1989 to 2002 - more than any other person in television history.

Thomas was a life-long advocate for adoption, founding the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in 1992. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of charities including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis; Children's Hospital in Columbus; Recreation Unlimited; The Ohio State University Cancer Research Institute and the Children's Home Society of Florida.

Thomas often cited his grandmother Minnie Sinclair for instilling in him the ideals of service, quality and respect for others, which impacted his ultimate business success. It was as an homage to her that Thomas made Wendy's hamburgers square, as a nod to the grandmother who taught him to "never cut corners" on quality.



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