Dave was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 2, 1932. Rex and Auleva Thomas adopted him when he was six weeks old. When Dave was five, Auleva died and his early years were spent moving many times from state to state while his adoptive father sought work.
Dave's fondest childhood memories were summers spent in Michigan with Grandma Minnie Sinclair. In his adoptive family, Dave was closest to his grandmother and cherished the time he spent with her and the lessons she taught him. She taught him about doing the right things and treating people with respect, as well as important lessons about quality and service - all values he later used in his business life. Minnie taught Dave that "Hard work is good for the soul, and it keeps you from feeling sorry for yourself because you don't have time." Dave’s father Rex wasn’t a typical family man, but they often ate together at restaurants - mainly local restaurants that made good hamburgers. For Dave, eating out was a special event because it was the one time he felt like he had his father all to himself. And, Dave enjoyed watching families sitting together, sharing a meal. Dining out became a passion for a Dave, and he decided he would one day own his own restaurant.
Moving from city to city left Dave without roots, so he sought refuge in work, hoping that a job would gain him respect and the money he needed to get more out of life.