Last week on radio, Glenn went into detail about how Harland Sanders built the behemoth Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise from the ground up – and he did it without a handout from the government. This morning on radio, he used another fast food icon to showcase American hard work and ingenuity: Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s.
“I want to tell you another story. This one happened July 2nd, 1932. Starts with an unwed mother. She gives birth to a son in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but it’s 1932. She’s unwed. You don’t have ‑‑ you’re you not a single parent unwed back in 1932. So she gives her son up for adoption. Mom and son never know each other. But it only takes about six weeks in those days to get the child adopted. A couple adopts this baby and names him Dave. Dave’s adopted mother dies when he’s 5 years old and his dad moves around the country just looking for work. Remember it’s the Great Depression.”
“At the age of 15, Dave drops out of high school and begins to work at a local restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He stayed behind when his dad continued to move around. His dad was desperate for any kind of employment and still couldn’t find it. Dave stays in Indiana. When the Korean War breaks out, Dave’s 18 years old and he enlists as a cook. He’s sent to Germany to cook for 2,000 troops. He’s honorably discharged and in 1953 he goes back to his old job in Fort Wayne, Indiana. That’s where Colonel Sanders crosses his path. It was just a couple of years later, Harland Sanders walks into the restaurant where this little adopted boy was the head cook, and the Clauss family were the owners of this restaurant. At first with 1,008 others, the Clauss family said, ‘No thank you” to Colonel Sanders, no, we don’t need your chicken.’ But Sanders as usual was persistent and eventually they agreed to the KFC franchise. It blossomed, many KFC franchises through the Midwest, and Dave worked with Colonel Sanders on many projects to make the franchise profitable.”
“The reason why I’m telling you this story? Well, is it because of this little adopted boy, the point of the story is because of him, we know who Colonel Sanders is because he’s the one who said, ‘You have got to be in your own television commercials.’ You’ve got to be the one that says ‘it’s finger‑lickin’ good.’ It was him that convinced him. Am I telling you the story because of that contribution? Or because he’s the guy who said, ‘You should put it in a bucket.’ He was the guy who said, ‘You should put it in a bucket.’”
“When four of the family’s KFCs in Columbus were failing, this guy was sent to turn them around. He did. By this time he had shares in KFC. He turned them around to the point to where they were so successful that in 1968 he sold them back to Harland Sanders for $1.5 million. Think of that, in 1968. That was ‑‑ remember when $1.5 million was a lot of money? That was an incredible sum of money.”
“A year later, in 1969 ‑‑ remember 1953 he’s just a ‑‑ he’s a cook for the Army. In 1969 he decides to go out on his own and he decides he wants to do an old‑fashioned hamburger joint in Columbus, Ohio. He named it after his daughter Wendy. It was successful. He opened more. Eventually one became ten, then hundreds and now thousands. In 1982 Dave Thomas, the little adopted kid, retired from the day‑to‑day operations, but in 1985 with lagging sales and poor decisions made by management, he was coaxed into coming back to save the company, which he did. In ’89 he took his own advice that worked so well for Colonel Sanders and he became the face of Wendy’s. He appeared in every single Wendy’s TV commercial from then on until his death in 2002, over 800 commercials. Wendy no longer was the face of the restaurant, but Dave Thomas was.”
“Despite being one of the most successful businessmen in the country, Dave Thomas had a regret. Remember he started moving around with his father at 15. He never graduated from high school. So in 1993, one of the most successful businessmen in America, fast food tycoon went back to Coconut Creek High School near his home and got his GED. When he died in 2002 at the age of 70, there were 6,000 Wendy’s operating in North America alone. Later that year President Bush awarded Dave Thomas the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”