Consumed by his love of hamburgers, Dave visited every hamburger stand he could find. When a friend mentioned that it was hard to get a good lunch in downtown Columbus, Dave saw an opportunity. On November 15, 1969, Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. His boyhood dream was coming true.
After trying all five of his children's names for the restaurant, Dave decided on his daughter Melinda's nickname - Wendy. This nickname stemmed from the fact that her siblings couldn’t pronounce her name, so they started calling her Wenda, which then turned into Wendy. He felt that the logo of a smiling, whole-some little girl with the name “Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers” would be the place where you went for a hamburger the way you used to get them, with fresh, never frozen American beef. When other quick-service restaurants were using frozen beef and mass-producing food, Dave developed an innovative method to prepare fresh, made-to-order hamburgers. The first menu included hot 'n juicy hamburgers, rich 'n meaty chili, French fries, soft drinks and a Frosty Dairy Dessert. From the beginning, Dave wanted Wendy’s to be a place to get great food, made fresh and served by friendly people; a place that didn't cut corners on quality. Wendy's became known for square ground beef hamburgers that hang over the bun, made with the customer's choice of toppings.
The Wendy's Pick-Up Window concept was born in 1970 in the first freestanding restaurant. The pick-up window wasn't brand new, but no one had made it work successfully. Originally designed as an add-on to the building to generate a few extra dollars in sales, it proved to be the catalyst that propelled Wendy's from a four-store Columbus chain into a foodservice phenomenon.
People loved Wendy’s, and Dave quickly opened more locations with the help of people who, like himself, had a passion for quality. In 1973, Dave began to franchise the Wendy's concept. His idea of selling franchises for entire cities and regions, rather than single units, was an industry innovation and enabled Wendy's to open more than 1,000 restaurants in the company's first 100 months.
Under Dave's leadership, Wendy's led the industry in product innovations. In 1979, the company was the first national chain to introduce salad bars, and in 1983, Wendy's added baked potatoes to the menu. Other innovations followed, and soon the restaurant industry and business community applauded Dave’s innovation and success.