How Wendy's Founder Helped Create KFC's Iconic Chicken Bucket

Wendy's and KFC are among the most popular fast food chains in the United States. According to Visual Capitalist, Wendy's ranked #5 and KFC ranked #14 in a 2021 list of America's top 50 fast food chains. Although one specializes in burgers and the other in chicken, making them indirect competitors, the two chains share a special connection that many people don't know about.

This connection involves KFC'S iconic chicken bucket, the delicious multi-piece family feast featuring drums, thighs, breasts, and wings. KFC explains how Colonel Harland Sanders (KFC's founder) and his first franchisee introduced the menu item in 1957, but there was another man who played a role in the bucket's success: Dave Thomas.

We see you scratching your head thinking — Dave Thomas, as in the founder of Wendy's Dave Thomas? Yup. Same guy. He founded Wendy's in 1969 (via Wendy's), which, you'll notice, was more than 10 years after the launch of KFC's chicken bucket. So how exactly did the renowned founder of Wendy's help create KFC's chicken bucket?

The design of the chicken bucket was Thomas' idea

After opening his first KFC franchise in 1952 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Colonel Sanders hit the road in 1956 with plans to open more, according to KFC. One of his stops was a restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, called Hobby House, where Dave Thomas worked as a cook, as Liveabout dotcom explains.

The Wolf of Franchises claims Sanders visited the eatery to persuade the owner, Phil Clauss, to convert it into a KFC. Clauss agreed, making Thomas one of the first cooks for the famous "secret recipe" fried chicken. Meanwhile, Sanders and Pete Harman — the owner of the Salt Lake City KFC — teamed up to buy 500 paper buckets, and in 1957, the first KFC chicken bucket was sold (via KFC).

While Thomas stayed busy in the kitchen at the Fort Wayne KFC, he shared some marketing ideas for the chain with Sanders. Insider mentions Thomas' efforts and how he helped improve brand recognition, but his biggest idea involved the design of the chicken bucket. He presented his recommendation for not only the red-and-white-striped design but a matching restaurant sign as well to help promote the product (per Liveabout dotcom).

The chicken bucket became popular all over the world

Liveabout dotcom states that Sanders moved forward with Thomas' suggestion, which ended up being a pretty good move as KFC's website reveals that the chicken bucket is now recognized worldwide. For example, it inspired the Brainwave Bucket campaign in Hong Kong. In Canada, KFC launched a Halloween social giveaway contest on Instagram that gave fans the opportunity to win a glow-in-the-dark chicken bucket. In Australia, fans wore the chicken buckets on their heads at cricket games and were appropriately referred to as the Buckethead Army (via KFC).

Needless to say, the world loves the KFC chicken bucket, and it's all thanks to the efforts of Colonel Sanders and Dave Thomas. Thomas went on to rejuvenate four failing KFC locations in Ohio, as Wendy's explains, before establishing his own restaurant in 1969 — Wendy's (per Liveabout dotcom).

Although Wendy's went on to become more popular than KFC, based on data from Visual Capitalist, it could be argued that Sanders and Thomas helped fuel each other's success.