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Wendy Thomas represents the past, present and future of one of America's leading family brands for dining – Wendy's – and she credits her late-father, founder and Korean War veteran Dave Thomas for the success she has enjoyed along the way.
"Being the face of Wendy's is a great honor. It's special to know your father's boyhood dream of owning a hamburger restaurant -- has your name on it … all around the globe," she told Veterans Advantage in an exclusive interview.
She also notes her dad's experience in the Army had a "huge impact" on her father's business sense, which helped lead a startup idea to nearly 6,600 restaurants around the world.
"His time in the military taught him how important it is to know your customer, how to manage and motivate employees and how to be dedicated and willing to work hard," she says, pointing to a period when Thomas served in the Army during the Korean War as the manager of an enlisted-men's club, building a thriving business.
"When he started working in the Club in Germany, sales were about $40 a day. He made some changes to the way the Club operated, including changing the menu to suit the customer base, and they ended up grossing $700 a day when he left," she said.
The famous Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was one of Dave's mentors who helped him learn about the restaurant business. He then opened his own restaurant on November 15, 1969, and named it for his then eight-year-old daughter, Wendy. Known for its square hamburgers and choice of toppings, Wendy's quickly caught on and within less than a decade grew into a franchise of 1,000 stores.
She beat out her sisters, Pam, Molly, and Lori, and a brother, Kenny, for the honor of having her father's brand-new hamburger chain named after her. "Dad wanted a name that was easy to remember, and he wanted an all-American mug," Wendy told People Magazine in a 1990 interview.
The two formed a one-two combination that popularized the Wendy's brand. It became a national sensation, most notably through its famous "Where's the Beef" advertising campaign in 1984. Mr. Thomas, who appeared in more than 800 commercials for Wendy's from 1989 until his death in 2002, has his daughter continuing his legacy. Wendy's true-life face first appeared in Wendy's advertising in 2011 in the launch of a new line of Dave's Hot 'N Juicy Cheeseburgers, named after her father.
Looking back on the 10+ years since her father's death, Wendy, who together with her family manages 33 Wendy's restaurants, says the company remains true to its roots.
"While we've added new items to the menu since 2002, the consistency of our products hasn't changed. Today, we still use fresh ingredients – fresh ground beef and produce that's prepared every morning – and fresh preparation of our sandwiches as we've always done. ‘Quality is Our Recipe' has been our motto since the first restaurant opened in 1969 and our dedication to quality will never change," she says.
Reflecting on her memories of working with her Dad, Wendy Thomas says he relished every opportunity to connect with others, from crew working the grill to the President of the United States.
"He taught me the importance of being nice and to treat everyone with respect," she says.
The company is also demonstrating its military roots through its current partnership with the Veterans Advantage benefits program. And for Wendy Thomas, managing Wendy's restaurants instills her with passion for connecting with the staff and watching the business grow – a testament to how her dad would have wanted it.
"My dad was often asked how he became successful," she recalls. "To him it was simple: find something you want to do, be willing to put in the time and work hard and things will work out for the best. I think that's a good lesson for all of us."
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