Why The Wendy's Founder Regrets The Name

It all started in 1969 in Columbus, Ohio. A man named Dave Thomas came home to his family one day and announced his plans to open a hamburger restaurant, but he didn't have a name for it yet. He wanted a brand character/mascot for the restaurant, comparable to Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Sanders, so he considered the names of his five children as options. "He said, 'Wendy, pull your hair up in pigtails,'" recalled Thomas' daughter, according to the website of the then-non-existent restaurant chain. "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." And indeed, that was the moment Wendy's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers was born. (Fun fact: His daughter's real name is Melinda Lou, but her family nicknamed her Wendy, per CNN.)

On the grand opening of their first-ever franchise establishment, Dave's wife dressed Melinda (or Wendy, as we'll call her from here on out) up in a striped dress and put pipe cleaners in her pigtails for a professional photo shoot, as CNN noted. The photos became the inspiration for the restaurant's logo, and little Wendy became the face of what would become one of America's most popular fast food restaurants. Known for its "fresh, never frozen" burgers, Wendy's is now one of the largest hamburger fast-food chains in the world, according to YouGov. But despite this success, Dave Thomas came to regret his decision to name the restaurant after his daughter — all because of the unexpected impact it had on her.

Wendy Thomas felt pressure to maintain the family's legacy

More than a decade after the restaurant's opening, Wendy Thomas still didn't fully realize how successful the chain had become. By her 19th birthday, the Thomas family had opened approximately 2,000 stores, but it wasn't until her 20s that she learned of the restaurant's international fame. Around that time, her father, Dave Thomas, suggested to his daughter that she become a Wendy's franchisee. Wendy Thomas moved forward with the idea and did so, launching her own successful business career — according to Celebrity Net Worth, her fortune sits somewhere around $100 million.)

Despite her success, bearing the name of the fast food restaurant took its toll — enough so that her father apologized to her for using her name and likeness. As Wendy Thomas recounted in a profile featured on the Wendy's blog, Dave Thomas sought forgiveness from his daughter, claiming it "it put a lot of pressure" on her and that he should have used his own name for the business in order to protect her privacy, to which she forgave him for. 

Even so, as Wendy Thomas stated she proudly feels the weight and responsibility of carrying on her father's dream. "I have to do the right thing, because it's the legacy I have to carry on," she noted on the blog. "I will always love this brand, but not because my name is on the buildings ... I just love everything. Why wouldn't I? It's our family business. For me, Wendy's is my family."