Wendy’s Founder Dave Thomas Regretted Naming the Burger Chain After His Daughter

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Wendy Thomas revealed why her dad apologized to her before he passed away.

By Mike Pomranz November 18, 2019

McDonald’s got its name from the two brothers who founded it: Richard and Maurice McDonald. They named it after themselves, which makes sense: It’s their restaurant. Wendy’s is also named after a real person: Wendy Thomas, the daughter of founder Dave Thomas. She even served as the inspiration for the chain’s iconic logo. But though naming your fast food chain after your daughter might sound like a sweet gesture, Dave apparently regretted the decision—even apologizing to his daughter before his death.

Dave Thomas, the founder of Dublin, O. based Wendy’s International Corp. and the chain’s latest advertising spokesman, serves up a fast meal at one of his outlets here recently. Thomas says he’s more comfortable behind a sizzling grill than in an executive hot seat.

Founded in 1969, Wendy’s is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and on Friday, the chain posted an interview with Wendy Thomas to its official blog to commemorate the occasion. The article offers a number of revelations—for instance, Dave didn’t just give Wendy her first Wendy’s franchise—she had to go through the system and get a loan just like everyone else—but the most interesting story might be how Wendy’s got its name, and how Dave felt about that decision years down the road.

“He wanted a character, because he worked for the Colonel at Kentucky Fried Chicken and knew how much that persona mattered,” Wendy Thomas said. And yes, Dave learned the ropes of the fast food industry working for KFC. “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.'” (There’s no mention of how her sister felt about the name.)

But Dave Thomas, who passed away in 2002, eventually realized that naming what would become America’s third largest hamburger chain after his daughter might have been a miscalculation. “Before my dad left us, we had a long conversation about him naming the restaurant Wendy’s,” she recalled. “It was the first time we’d ever had this conversation. 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.’ I responded, ‘Yeah, it is a lot of pressure.'”

But as Wendy reveals next, the pressure she’s talking about may be different than you think. “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,” she explains. “I know he’s been gone almost 20 years, but he’s still working.” She then adds with a quip, “The name does have its advantages, though. Sometimes if I need a reservation, it helps!”

Of course, a restaurant called Dave’s isn’t quite as unique as one called Wendy’s, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have worked. The barbecue chain Famous Dave’s—founded in 1994—is now the 99th largest restaurant chain in America, according to the site Restaurant Business. Who knows? If Dave Thomas had taken the name back in the ’60s, perhaps Famous Dave would be a little less famous.