Dave Thomas (businessman) : biography
David Rex "Dave" Thomas (July 2, 1932January 8, 2002) was an American businessman and philanthropist. Thomas was the founder and chief executive officer of Wendy’s, a fast-food restaurant chain specializing in hamburgers. He is also known for appearing in more than 800 commercial advertisements for the chain from 1989 to 2002, more than any other company founder in television history.
Dave Thomas was born on July 2, 1932 in Atlantic City, New Jersey to a young unmarried woman he never knew. He was adopted at 6 weeks by Rex and Auleva Thomas, and as an adult would become a well-known advocate for adoption, founding the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. After his adoptive mother’s death when he was 5, his father moved around the country seeking work. Dave spent time in Michigan with his grandmother, Minnie Sinclair, whom he credited with teaching him the importance of service and treating others well and with respect, lessons that helped him in his future business life.Thomas, R. David (1992). Dave’s Way. Berkeley Publishing. ISBN 978-0-425-13501-3.
At 12 Thomas got his first job at The Regas, a restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, then lost it in a dispute with his boss. However, there was a large autographed poster-photo of Thomas just inside the entrance of The Regas until the business closed down in 2009. He vowed never to lose another job. Moving with his father, by 15 he was working in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the Hobby House Restaurant owned by the Clauss family. When his father prepared to move again, Dave decided to stay in Fort Wayne, dropping out of high school to work full-time at the restaurant. Thomas, who considered ending his schooling the greatest mistake of his life, did not graduate from high school until 1993 when he obtained a GED.
Dave Thomas became an education advocate and founded the Dave Thomas Education Center in Coconut Creek, Florida, which offers GED classes to young adults.
At the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, rather than waiting for the draft, he volunteered for the U.S. Army to have some choice in assignments. Having food production and service experience, Thomas requested the Cook’s and Baker’s School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was sent overseas to Germany as a mess sergeant and was responsible for the daily meals of 2000 soldiers, rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. After his discharge in 1953, Thomas returned to Fort Wayne and the Hobby House.
On January 8, 2002, Thomas died at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after a decade-long battle with Neuroendocrine cancer/Carcinoid cancer that had spread to his liver. He was 69 years old. Thomas was buried in Union Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. At the time of his death, there were more than 6,000 Wendy’s restaurants operating in North America.
Fast food career
Kentucky Fried Chicken
In the mid-1950s, Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Col. Harland Sanders came to Fort Wayne to find restaurateurs with established businesses in order to try to sell KFC franchises to them.
At first, Thomas, who was the head cook at the restaurant, and the Clausses declined Sanders’ offer, but the Colonel persisted and the Clauss family franchised their restaurant with KFC and later also owned many other KFC franchises in the Midwest. During this time, Thomas worked with Sanders on many projects to make KFC more profitable and to give it brand recognition. Among other things Thomas suggested to Sanders that were implemented: KFC’s signature chicken bucket (to keep the chicken crisp), reduce the number of items on the menu, focus on a signature dish. Thomas also suggested Sanders make commercials that he appear in himself. Thomas was sent by the Clauss family in the mid-1960s to help turn around four ailing KFC stores they owned in Columbus, Ohio.
By 1968 Thomas had increased sales in the four fried chicken restaurants so much that he sold his share in them back to Sanders for more than $1.5 million.http://www.anb.org/articles/10/10-02290.html This experience would prove invaluable to Thomas when he began Wendy’s about a year later.