In the pantheon of burger chains, Wendy’s ranks a distant third to its biggest competitors, McDonald’s and Burger King, in terms of number of locations. With its never-frozen square patties, Frostys, and chili, however, it has developed a loyal following and manages to remain a fierce competitor while sticking to the core formula first devised by founder Dave Thomas in 1969. But whether you’re a regular customer or just an occasional Frosty buyer, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about Wendy’s.
The story of Wendy’s begins, of course, with its founder, Dave Thomas. Thomas began working in restaurants at age 12, and after serving in the Korean War he became head chef at a Fort Wayne, Indiana, restaurant called Hobby House, which soon converted into a KFC franchise at the insistence of Colonel Harland Sanders himself. Thomas and Sanders became friends, and in the mid-1960s Thomas was sent by the Fort Wayne franchise’s owners to turn around four failing KFCs that they owned in Columbus, Ohio. By 1968 those locations were doing so well that he was able to sell his shares in them back to Sanders for more than $1.5 million. He used the cash to open a restaurant of his own, specializing in burgers, which he christened in honor his eight-year-old daughter Melinda Lou, who was nicknamed Wenda, giving it the slightly more common name of Wendy’s.
The first location opened in Columbus on November 15, 1969. In 1972, the first franchise location opened, in Indianapolis. By 1976, 500 locations had sprung up in the United States and Canada, and the chain just kept on rolling from there. In 1979 it became the first fast food chain to introduce the salad bar (which morphed into the now-discontinued “Superbar” in 1988); in 1986 the entire company was restructured in order to remain competitive; in 2007 they began experimenting with breakfast (something they’re still trying to get right); and in 2008 the chain merged with Arby’s parent company Triarc to form the publicly traded Wendy’s Company.
Today, there are more than 6,515 Wendy’s locations worldwide, 85 percent of them are franchises. As opposed to its competitors, who are constantly revamping their menus and trying out one (often unsuccessful) strategy after another, Wendy’s has faith in the power of its square-patty burger and stands by it. It’s a tactic that works, and it’s carrying the chain into the 21st century. Read on for 10 things you may not have known about Wendy’s.
Dave Thomas Invented KFC’s Chicken Bucket
Thomas and Colonel Sanders worked together closely in order to make KFC more profitable, and Thomas, who was one of the Midwest’s most successful franchisees, was more than happy to be of assistance. Along with making the fabled suggestion that Sanders appear in KFC commercials himself, Thomas also encouraged Sanders to implement the chain’s defining feature: the family-style chicken bucket.
It Was Inspired by a Kalamazoo Burger Joint
Thomas spent his early childhood in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where one of the most popular burger joints was a restaurant named Kewpee Burger. Wendy’s “old-fashioned” hamburgers are old-fashioned because they’re prepared in the same style as Kewpee's, which opened in 1923 and sold burgers in a particular way: they’re square.