Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Why the Wendy’s Founder Regretted Naming the Franchise After His Daughter

Why the Wendy’s Founder Regretted Naming the Franchise After His Daughter

Dave Thomas created one of the most successful food franchises in Wendy’s with a familiar face to him as a selling point. Thomas, who also had a heart for adopted children, was the father of five children from his marriage. One of them is named Melinda Lou.

Thomas knew that having a solid name and image for his business was important. Before he started building up his chain of restaurants, he oversaw a Kentucky Fried Chicken establishment. His training there would prove to be beneficial for Thomas in the long run.

Well, Thomas was working on his restaurant idea. One aspect became clear and that was having 8-year-old Melinda Lou’s face as its marquee. “To me, nothing would be a more appealing advertisement than showing a little girl, smiling and rosy-cheeked,” Thomas said, according to CNN. “Her cleanly-scrubbed, freckled face was it. I knew that was the name and image for the business.”

Dave Thomas Found Inventive Way To Use Daughter’s Name

Speaking of his restaurant’s name, there’s also a tie-in with Melinda Lou. Thomas apparently had trouble pronouncing her name, so it came out as “Wendy” or “Wenda.” Thomas thought it over and decided that Wendy would work for his business.

“Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers” became the full name of his business. After establishing the first franchise in Columbus, Ohio, Thomas’ food-and-drink locations sprung up. And Thomas wanted to cater his business toward a more adult crowd. Other burger franchises looked to get the kids on board.

In time, though, Thomas observed was was happening to his sweet Melinda Lou. Some of her life was being inundated by people recognizing her from her dad’s business.

She’s lost some of her privacy,” Thomas wrote in his autobiography. “Because some people still take her for the official company spokesperson, sometimes she hedges speaking her mind. I don’t blame her.”

Father Ultimately Apologized To His Daughter

Dave Thomas died in 2002. Wendy Thomas-Morse, in a blog post for the company back in 2019, said that he apologized for naming it after her. “I should’ve just named it after myself because it put a lot of pressure on you,” she wrote. Thomas-Morse eventually became a franchisee for Wendy’s.

For a good period, Wendy’s managed to capture a spot in the public’s mind with an ad campaign. Back in 1984, they developed some TV advertisements with Clara Peller. Her name might not be recognized. But she was the old woman who yelled out “Where’s the beef?” That advertisement campaign helped boost Wendy’s business immensely.

As for Thomas, he put his face in around 800 TV advertisements between 1989 and 2002. He could be seen in a short-sleeved white shirt with rim glasses on him. Thomas’ ad work even reportedly landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Thomas knew what would work in bringing business to his restaurants. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Melinda Lou’s name and likeness became crucial to its success.