As one of America’s most popular fast food joints, Wendy’s has a reputation for offering tasty fare at affordable prices. But there’s more to the brand’s wholesome atmosphere than meets the eye. From founder Dave Thomas’ difficult upbringing to some amusing training methods, and strange product origins, these wild facts will entertain, educate, and shock you all at once!
Wendy’s iconic logo features a young freckle-faced girl with red pigtails. Charmingly, the logo design and name of the restaurant were inspired by founder Dave Thomas’ daughter Melinda, whose nickname was “Wendy.”
In a 2019 blog entry, she wrote, “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.’”
Dave Thomas’ daughter, Wendy, once recalled an early promotional shoot for the fast food chain. She said, “When the first restaurant opened, I was in the third grade and got to skip school.
My mom made my blue and white dress and she stuck my hair up in pigtails. And, boy, did I cry. It hurt. Then she stuck those pipe cleaners in there. We sat in front of the photographer for what felt like five or six hours.”
On November 15, 1969, history was made: the first Wendy’s restaurant opened in Columbus, Ohio! The location at 257 East Broad Street stayed in business for 28 years, finally closing its doors in 2007.
Right from the start, Wendy’s served square burger patties with round buns, the idea being that this would immediately display the juicy, high-quality beef to the customer.
Before it shut down in 2007 the original Wendy’s location had become something of an unofficial museum. As the franchise’s fame increased, the restaurant began displaying memorabilia prominently.
For example, the wardrobe of characters in Wendy’s commercials was put behind glass displays, and a plaque featuring the very first square griddle was hung in the restaurant. It was like eating burgers and drinking milkshakes in the middle of history itself!
In this big wide world, there are only two burger chains bigger than Wendy’s: Burger King and McDonald’s. Yet in the U.S., in 2021 Wendy’s actually surpassed Burger King’s sales, making it the second biggest chain in its native land!
Carl Loredo, Wendy’s CMO, told Forbes magazine, “To make the progress we made in QSR overall — not just in passing Burger King, but also Subway, who both have more restaurants than we do — is a big deal.”
In the ’80s, Wendy’s was synonymous with an ad campaign featuring a woman comically asking, “Where’s the beef?” Unfortunately, the actress — Clara Peller — would lose the gig in ’85 when she starred in a commercial for Campbell’s spaghetti sauce, controversially claiming her long search was over. Wendy’s fired her, and a spokesman said, “The commercial infers that Clara found the beef at somewhere other than Wendy’s restaurants.”
Thomas was adopted by Kalamazoo, Michigan, couple Auleva and Rex Thomas when he was only six weeks old. Auvela passed when he was just five, and by ten he’d seen two more stepmoms die.
He never knew his biological family and, when he tracked down his birth mom at the age of 21, he found out she had already died. Later, he discovered he had a half-brother who was a college professor, but he reportedly didn’t want a relationship with him.
In 1992 Thomas founded the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. He didn’t want kids in the foster system to have a hard time like he experienced and used the foundation to help children on the lookout for families.
He once told website Mashed, “You’d be surprised the people who were adopted who don’t want to talk about it. It’s hard for people who have a mother and father to understand. Adoption was like the plague.”
“Drinks. Cold. Are you ready? Here we go!” Thus begins one of the most legendary company training videos social media has ever laid its eyes on: a ’90s Wendy’s clip in which a blonde-haired actress raps a how-to guide for prospective employees slingin’ sodas!
MC Wendy continues, “Use the scoop to fill the ice, never use the cup take my advice,” and concludes with, “Tilt the cup against the lever. Keeps the foam down, isn’t that clever?”
In 2019 Wendy’s launched its very own Dungeons and Dragons-esque tabletop roleplaying game! To give you a taste — pun very much intended — of what to expect, according to CNET, “Feast of Legends is set in the nation of Freshtovia,” and “Players must… choose one of 12 Orders, each of which is based on a different Wendy’s Menu item.
Perhaps you’d like to be part of the Order of the Baconator or the Order of the Baked Potato?”
When the first Wendy’s opened way back in ’69, the Frosty was one of only five menu items. It was invented by Fred Kappus, CEO of the Kappus Company.
Thomas entrusted him with the task of creating a tasty frozen dessert, and Kappus believed diners would love finishing their meals with a cold creamy treat, something halfway between an ice cream and a milkshake! Good call, Fred. Very good call!
At Wendy’s, you can purchase a chocolate Frosty and a vanilla Frosty — but the chocolate variety actually contains vanilla as well! This is what gives it a malty flavor, rather than the super-rich chocolate taste you’d get with other desserts.
The story goes that Kappus was inspired by the ice cream served at a Cleveland race track. On the machine was a note which read, “SECRET FORMULA, FROSTED MALTED.”
Wendy’s makes a mean chili, and it’s also been there from the very beginning. It was one of the original five menu items and was added because Thomas wanted a way to make use of leftover burger meat before it went bad.
This cost-saving brainwave wound up creating one of Wendy’s most beloved products, and these days people love the chili cheese fries and chili topping for their baked potatoes!
Every year, Wendy’s holds the Frosty 5k run in Columbus, Ohio, with all proceeds going straight to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. It’s generally very lucrative; in 2018 the race raised a huge $110,000.
Participants pay to take part in the 5k, and everyone who runs — or walks, or crawls — to the finish line gets a cold, creamy, delicious reward. You guessed it: a Frosty!
Wendy’s is responsible for a number of American fast-food “firsts”; the salad bar is one of them. Thomas introduced the tasty-yet-healthy option in 1979 and by the ’80s was offering the “Superbar” — a buffet of hot and cold options for only $2.99.
Sadly, the salad bars haven’t been around since 2006 as they became impractical to keep stocked and clean. Staff also struggled to stop customers taking multiple servings, which hit profits hard.
Dietician Holly Klamer told the She Finds website that the Parmesan Casear salad is the healthiest thing you can order at Wendy’s. She explained, “It provides a surprisingly high amount of protein at 41 grams, while being relatively low in calories at 440 per salad with dressing.”
Nutritionist Samantha Watson added, “It has a whopping 41g of protein, which is essential for building and repairing the muscles, organs, and bones. It’s also low in carbohydrates.”
As noted, apparently in the U.S., you can get a secret T-Rex burger, which is pretty cool. But if you happen to find yourself at the Wendy’s in Japan’s Omotesando district, want to try something unique, and you have $16 to spare?
Order the Foie Gras burger — which is a regular beef pattie with goose liver on top — and you’ll have a nice story to tell when you get home!
Trying to imagine a fast-food restaurant these days operating without a drive-thru window is extremely difficult — they account for two thirds of all sales, after all. Though two outlets had windows before Wendy’s — the first In-N-Out and Jack in the Box locations — they were drive-thru only.
In 1970 Wendy’s was the first chain to add a drive-thru window to an existing restaurant, beating Burger King and McDonald’s by five years!
Nine years before 1998 when Burger King got in on the act, Wendy’s offered its customers a cut-price value menu. Communications VP Denny Lynch told Mashed, “At that time, all of the hamburger chains were going after each other and it escalated to the point where we were seeing 99 cent Whoppers and Big Macs.
We had the idea of rather than selling one of our big items at 99 cents, creating a whole menu with 99-cent items.”
KFC and Wendy’s are two titans of the fast-food game, but we bet you didn’t know Thomas once worked for Colonel Sanders! In 1962 he was tasked with reviving several flatlining KFC locations in Columbus, Ohio, and when he turned them into successes he was given a 45 percent stake in their profits.
He sold this stake back to Sanders for $1.5 million and used that windfall to open the first Wendy’s!
Have you ever wanted the delicious malty flavor of a classic Wendy’s Frosty, but in breakfast cereal form? Well, you’re in luck, because Wendy’s Frosty Chocolatey Cereal exists!
Perhaps a word of caution, though, because Cerealously blog deemed it “a slightly above-average Cocoa Puffs clone,” but didn’t “see any reason to settle when there are better options in the breakfast aisle.”
In 2013 Wendy’s redesigned its logo, and fans immediately noticed something strange: it looked very much like the word “mom” was spelled out in the ruffles of the girl’s collar! Was this a subliminal message meant to make everyone think of their beloved mothers?
Well, apparently not: senior VP of communications Denny Lynch told website Huff Post that, while the strokes did certainly resemble “mom,” it was entirely unintentional.
Most fast-food joints have secret menus: the key is to know what to ask for, and whether the location in question will actually sell you the secret items! According to Parade magazine, Wendy’s should offer a T-Rex burger.
This is apparently a mythically enormous feast that may have six, nine, or even 12 beef patties! There’s also the Barnyard burger — beef, bacon, chicken, cheese, and ham — as well as the Valley Crispy Chicken Club sandwich, for those who fancy something marginally healthier.
When Wendy’s became a worldwide sensation, it became public knowledge that Thomas had never finished high school. He didn’t want his success story to become inspiration for people to quit their education, though, as he always felt he’d made a mistake dropping out.
So, at the ripe old age of 61 he went back to classes, learning his GED at Coconut Creek High School in Florida.
During Thomas’ youth near Kalamazoo, Michigan, there was one burger restaurant he cherished above all others: Kewpee Hamburgers. These days, there are only three locations left — all in Lima, Ohio — but back then, it was big, and Thomas loved its burgers, which were square in shape!
It’s never been confirmed, but as per website Atlas Obscura, it’s believed this is where he got the inspiration for Wendy’s square patties.
Wendy’s has launched a breakfast menu four times, with the most recent starting in 2020. The previous three attempts were in 1985, 2006, and 2012: they lasted nine months, three years, and another three years, respectively.
Why the chopping and changing? Well, in ’85 customers didn’t want to wait for fresh omelettes, and in ’12 bosses feared Wendy’s was losing money at lunchtime by offering breakfast!
Cheese sauce is a wonderful creation, whether it’s slathered on bacon fries or a baked potato. Yes, it’s highly unhealthy and unlikely to contain anything even resembling real cheese, but it’s delicious!
Still, perhaps best to heed this Reddit warning: at some Wendy’s restaurants, “managers will make the crew pour boiling water from the coffee-maker into it when it’s almost out to ’make more.’”
In 2022 a new Wendy’s location opened in London’s Camden Town, and the classic pigtailed logo girl was now an emo-fringed hipster! Fans were horrified and intrigued in equal measure, but it turned out just to be a marketing strategy specific to Camden, an area known for its super-hip music and fashion.
A marketing director told Food & Wine, “As a new brand entering such a culturally-rich neighborhood, it was important for us to show respect for the community.”