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 of Wendy's opened in Columbus on November 15, 1969. By 1976, 500 locations had sprung up in the United States and Canada, and the chain just kept on rolling from there. Today, there are more than 6,650 Wendy’s locations worldwide. Read on for 19 things you may not have known about Wendy’s.
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.
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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.
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The legendary “Where’s the Beef?” campaign, which marked Wendy’s’ entrance in the famed Burger Wars of the 1980s, helped differentiate the brand from its competitors and inspired an increase in sales. But in 1985, just one year after the first commercial starring 84 year-old Clara Peller aired, the campaign was dropped and Peller was fired after she appeared in a commercial for Prego spaghetti sauce in which she proclaimed that she had “finally found” the beef.
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Dave Thomas, who had resigned from the company in 1982, was coaxed back into the limelight in 1985 after the “Where’s the Beef?” campaign ended. He began to visit franchises and once again became the face of the company. He became the official spokesperson in 1989, and throughout the 1990s he appeared in more than 800 commercials for the brand.
The chain pulled all of its advertising from the sitcom Ellen in 1997 after star Ellen DeGeneres’ character came out of the closet on the air. The move resulted in a boycott from the gay and lesbian community.
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Wendy’s was the first chain to introduce a menu where every item cost the same price. Their value menu, which launched in October 1989, had a set price of 99 cents. Burger King launched its 99-cent menu in 1998, McDonald’s didn’t get around to launching their dollar menu until 2002, and Taco Bell's arrived in 2014.
Believe it or not, the very first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio, closed for business after 38 years on March 2, 2007 due to flagging sales, several years after deciding to share its space with a Tim Hortons. The building underwent a $1.7 million renovation after its closure, and is today the headquarters of the city’s Catholic Foundation.
The company recently opened “90° Labs” in Dublin, Ohio, as a “collaborative environment for Wendy's employees to explore forward-looking ways to utilize technology for key business initiatives.” Basically, its goal is to find ways to cinorporate as much digital technology into the customer experience as possible.
Wendy’s has updated many restaurants to feature an entirely new design, fireplaces, varied seating options including lounge chairs and booths, Wi-Fi, flat-screen televisions, digital menu boards, and self-service kiosks.
The company has gone through nearly 30 slogans over the years, including “Where’s the beef?,” the flop “Give a little nibble,” and “Do what tastes right,” but their very first one, “Quality is our recipe,” is still on the logo today. Another slogan, in use since 2016, is "Not just different, deliciously different."
Wendy’s was one of the first major chain restaurants to adopt the modern-day drive-thru window. They introduced the feature in 1971.
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The Frosty, the milkshake-like concoction that pairs surprisingly well with fries, has been on the menu since the first location opened its doors in 1969. Originally, a Frosty cost just 35 cents; the original flavor was a combination of chocolate and vanilla, because Thomas thought that a pure chocolate flavor would overwhelm the flavor of the burgers.
Letters to Wendy's is a tragic novel written over the course of a year on Wendy’s comment cards by author Joe Wenderoth. According to the description, "Through the letters, the book traces a year in the life and thoughts of an unnamed narrator obsessed not only by Biggies and Frosties, but also by consumerism, pornography, and mortality." Clearly, it has no official affiliation with the brand.
Founder Dave Thomas was adopted at just six weeks old and was known for his adoption advocacy. In 1990 George H.W. Bush named Thomas head of the “Adoption Works… For Everyone” initiative, and in 1992 Thomas founded the Dave Thomas Adoption Foundation in order to help foster children.
All Canadian locations offer two varieties of poutine: one in the traditional style, with fries topped with Canadian cheese curds and brown gravy; and another that adds applewood-smoked bacon to the party. Jealous yet?
In January 2016, Wendy's rolled out black bean burgers at 24 locations in Utah, Ohio, and South Carolina. It was actually pretty high-end; the patty was made with black beans, wild rice, farro, onions, brown rice, carrots, quinoa, corn, and bell peppers; and the sauce included red wine vinegar, chili peppers, cumin, cilantro, and oregano. It wasn't a hit, though, and it was discontinued that summer, joining a long list of failed fast food menu items.
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