"Although Dave was widely popular, he was never very comfortable as a celebrity. He kept reminding us he was simply a hamburger cook," Schuessler said. "He was a humble man who was very comfortable in an apron behind a grill or in a business suit in a board room."
Since 1989, the folksy Thomas featured prominently in the burger chain's television advertising campaigns. He would eventually star in more than 800 commericals.
Thomas's adoptive mother died when he was only 5 years old, and as a result, he spent much of his childhood moving from state to state with his father. During those years, he enjoyed his summers in Michigan with his adoptive grandmother, Minnie Sinclair, whom he credits on the Wendy’s website as one of the major stabilizing forces in his life.
Until his death in January 2002, Thomas made folksy humorous commercials stressing the difference between Wendy's and its leading competitors. The campaign worked. By 2002 Wendy's had five hundred franchise stores for a total of more than six thousand restaurants worldwide.
To make his restaurants even more inviting, Thomas created a relaxed, homey atmosphere with carpeting, Tiffany-style lamps over the tables, and Bentwood chairs. As a final touch, Thomas used the face of a little freckled, red-haired girl in ponytails as the logo for his new business. This image was the likeness of his eight-year-old daughter, Melinda Lou, nicknamed Wendy.
David Thomas (“Dave”), (born July 2, 1932, Atlantic City, N.J.—died Jan. 8, 2002, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), American businessman who , was the founder (1969) of the Wendy’s fast-food restaurants and built the company into the world’s third largest hamburger chain, with more than 6,000 locations; to the general public, however, he was the folksy, avuncular Wendy’s pitchman in more than 800 TV commercials. An adoptee himself, Thomas sought to help find homes and families for children without them and created the nonprofit Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
Thomas began to visit franchises and espouse his hardworking, so-called "mop-bucket attitude." In 1989, he took on an even more important role, as the television spokesman for the company in a series of fantastically successful commercials.
After complaining that he couldn't find a good hamburger in Columbus, Ohio, Dave Thomas opened his own restaurant on November 15, 1969: Wendy's, named for his eight-year-old daughter. Wendy's quickly caught on and within less than a decade grew into a franchise of 1,000 stores.
To help with his family's finances, Thomas began working at the age of 12 as a counter boy at Walgreen's Drug Store in Knoxville, Tennessee. He spent his offhours eating in cheap restaurants with his father, an activity that would influence his career choice.
Serving in the Army during the Korean War, Thomas attended the army's Cook and Baker's School and became the youngest soldier ever to manage an enlisted-men's club. In Germany Thomas was a cook and staff sergeant feeding up to 2,000 people a day.