This is a subscriber-only article. Join Entrepreneur+ today for access

Learn More

Already have an account?

Sign in
Entrepreneur Plus - Short White
For Subscribers

Building A Better Burger How Dave Thomas turned a local restaurant into a very beefy business.

By Bob Weinstein

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Dave thomas' face is everywhere: billboards, TV commercials,life-sized posters in the window of every Wendy's restaurant.It's the face that launched a hamburger chain, and built itinto a $4.2 million dollar empire.

With more than 4,500 restaurants in the United States and 34 othercountries, Wendy's repeatedly beats McDonald's as thenumber one burger joint in an annual survey by Restaurant &Institutions magazine. Burger aficionados consistently rateWendy's high on the quality scale. And it's all due toThomas' hard work, dedication and commitment to building abetter restaurant.

"In 1940, at the age of eight, I dreamed that one day I wouldown the best restaurant in the world. All of the customers wouldlove my food, and all of my employees would do everything they weresupposed to do. But most important, everyone would think I was agood boss, and every day when I walked into the restaurant, peoplewould be glad to see me," writes Thomas on the opening page ofhis autobiography, Dave's Way (Berkley Books).

Thomas candidly admits that achieving that dream was a study insurvival. "Early on, I realized there is no easy way,"says Thomas. "If you want something, you have to go out andwork for it. The idea is to do something you love."

Ask him what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, and Thomastells you straight out that anyone can be successful if he or sheis dedicated to a service or product, has strong convictions and iswilling to work hard to build experience. As the saying goes,however, it's easier said than done.

In The Beginning

Thomas was adopted by Rex and Olivia Thomas when he was six weeksold and christened Rex David Thomas. His adoptive mother died whenhe was five, and after his father divorced his second wife, Thomasbegan to get up close and personal with the restaurantbusiness.

"We started going to restaurants for our meals," saysThomas. "It was then that I decided I wanted to own my ownrestaurant because I liked to eat, and I just thought restaurantswere really neat, exciting places. By the age of nine, I had becomea real expert on restaurants. I knew what customers expected and Iknew what kind of service and quality was acceptable. I overheardcomplaints and compliments and I soaked it all in."

Thomas spent his teen years learning the grunt side of therestaurant business. When he was 15, his family moved to FortWayne, Indiana, where he landed a job as a busboy at the HobbyHouse Restaurant. "By then, I was a veteran restaurantworker," Thomas chuckles.

At 18, he made another major career move: He enlisted in the armyand enrolled in the cook and baker school to learn the skills of amaster baker, as well as the rudiments of managing a mess hall thatserved 2,000 meals a day. He learned to negotiate with vendors andbuy in quantity.

"It turned out to be a great learning experience," saysThomas. "I learned how to be an entrepreneur and it didn'tcost me anything. It was like running my own business, without anyof the risks."

When he finished his three-year army stint, he got back his job asa short order cook at the Hobby House. There he met and fell inlove with a pretty waitress named Lorraine Buskirk. They married in1954, when Thomas was 22 and Lorraine 19.

The rest of this article is locked.

Join Entrepreneur+ today for access.

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Sign In