Wendy's is one of the biggest fast-food chains in the county, but if its founder Dave Thomas had named it a few years later, the restaurant might have been called something totally different.
Before he passed away in 2002, Thomas admitted something pretty surprising to his daughter Wendy: He regretted naming the burger chain after her.
This little known fact was revealed in a new interview commemorating the chain's 50th anniversary. When he founded the now iconic chain in 1969, Thomas was simply looking for a personality that customers would quickly associate with the new brand.
"He wanted a character, because he worked for the Colonel at Kentucky Fried Chicken and knew how much that persona mattered," Wendy Thomas explained. "He said, 'Wendy, pull your hair up in pigtails.' So, I did. He got his camera and took pictures of me and my sister and said, 'Yep, it’s going to be Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers.'"
But as time went on, Thomas realized that having his daughter as the namesake for his ultra-popular restaurant might not have been the best idea.
"Before my dad left us, we had a long conversation about him naming the restaurant Wendy’s. It was the first time we’d ever had this conversation," Thomas said. "He said, 'You know what? I’m sorry.' I asked him what he meant. He explained, 'I should’ve just named it after myself, because it put a lot of pressure on you.'"
Though she might have been surprised by her father's revelation, the brand's namesake said she agreed that it put a lot of pressure on her. However, she wouldn't have had it any other way today.
"I have to do the right thing, because it’s the legacy I have to carry on. I want to do the right thing by him, because he worked really hard to start this. I know he’s been gone almost 20 years, but he’s still working," she said.
In the interview, Thomas also divulged that her father was very keen on making her work hard, regardless of how much money the family had.
"After college, when I was in South Carolina, my dad asked if I’d ever thought about being a Wendy’s franchisee. I looked at my husband and said, 'No – but okay. Really? We can do that?' And my dad said, 'Yeah, here are the people you need to call. Work it out.' Seriously, that’s all he said. Work it out," Thomas recalled.
From there, she did the legwork and went through the proper channels to secure a loan for her new Wendy's franchise. "I’m sure everyone thought, 'Oh, the Thomas kids got taken care of,' but it really wasn’t like that. I had to go to GE Capital and pretend I knew what I was doing with all the financing."
In the end, Thomas feels grateful that her father instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in her. "I’m thankful he chose that path for us, because it made us really work hard and not have people assume 'Oh, this was handed to you.' He didn’t believe in that theory at all," she said.
However, the most important (and somewhat comical) lesson Thomas learned from her father all comes down to the food. Wendy's makes hamburgers ... not burgers.
"He would really get upset about people saying we’re in the 'burger' business," Thomas said. "We would be in a lot of conversations, especially with the media, and they’d say, 'Well now, Dave, how do you make your burger?' And he would just cut them right off and say, 'Well, we’re not in the burger business — we’re in the hamburger business, because we don’t cut corners.'"