Rex D. Thomas
Sidewalks on High Street crowded with pedestrians, Columbus, Ohio, ca. 1980-1995. Wendy's and White Castle restaurants, both based in Columbus, are pictured.
Rex David (Dave) Thomas was born on July 2, 1932, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was adopted while still a baby. By eight years of age, Thomas decided that he would spend his life in the restaurant industry. He attended high school, but Thomas dropped out at the fifteen years of age. A strong proponent of education, he earned his GED in 1993.
Thomas originally owned four Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. In 1969, however, he decided to open his own restaurant. Thomas named the restaurant Wendy's in honor of his daughter. The first Wendy's opened on November 15, 1969. It was located at 257 East Broad Street, in Columbus, Ohio. Thomas wanted to provide his customers with fast, hearty food, in a family setting. One year later, Thomas opened a second restaurant, also in Columbus. This eatery had the first modern drive-thru window among fast food restaurants.
Wendy's grew quickly after the opening of this second restaurant. By 1976, Wendy's had opened or franchised five hundred restaurants, including some in Canada. Two years later, the company had topped one thousand restaurants, and by 1979, the firm operated more than 1,500 eateries, including some in Mexico. Also in 1979, Wendy's was the first fast food restaurant to introduce a salad bar. The company continued to add approximately five hundred restaurants each year during the early 1980s.
During the 1990s, Wendy's continued to expand, operating over six thousand Wendy's restaurants by 2001. In 1996, the company purchased Tim Horton's. Expanding its holdings even further, in 2002, the firm purchased Baja Fresh Mexican Grill. In 2001, the company also became the sponsor of a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament in Columbus, Ohio. The firm's growth was partly due to its creative advertising. In 1984, the company introduced its "Where's the Beef" campaign, which made fun of other restaurants' hamburgers. This phrase became a catchphrase for people in the United States during the mid 1980s. Dave Thomas also starred in most of Wendy's commercials -over eight hundred of them- from the late 1980s until his death from liver cancer in 2002. Thomas starred in more commercials than anyone in the history of television. Customers identified with Thomas and his pledge to provide them with high-quality food.
Thomas also became known for his charitable contributions. He especially supported adoption charities, and in 1992, he founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.