Industry News | January 8, 2002

Wendy's Founder Dave Thomas Dead at Age 69

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Wendy's International announced early January 8, 2002, that founder and longtime pitchman Dave Thomas had died near midnight, January 7, at his home in Florida. The chain did not release further details, but company officials were gathering at headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, and were to make a statement later in the morning.

QSR will will continue to report information as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, read Thomas's most recent interview with QSR magazine here .

Update
Wendy's released the following statement regarding Thomas:

DUBLIN, Ohio — January 8, 2002 — Dave Thomas, sixty-nine, founder and senior chairman of Wendy's International, Inc. passed away early this morning at his home in Florida from cancer of the liver. Thomas had a carcinoid tumor, which is a slow growing cancer, for more than a decade.

"Dave was our patriarch, a great, big lovable man," said Jack Schuessler, chairman and CEO of Wendy's International, Inc. "He was the heart and soul of our company. He had a passion for great tasting hamburgers, and devoted his life to serving customers great food and helping those less fortunate in his community."

Thomas founded Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers restaurants on November 15, 1969, in downtown Columbus, Ohio. He named the company after his second youngest daughter.

Wendy's has grown to more than six thousand restaurants worldwide, with a reputation for fresh, high quality food, and fast and friendly service. In 1995, Wendy's merged with Tim Hortons, Canada's largest coffee and fresh baked goods chain, that now totals more than two thousand units. Together, the two chains have system sales exceeding $8 billion.

Thomas is best known as the caring, amiable spokesman in Wendy's television commercials, appearing in more than 800 since 1989. Research showed consumers strongly believed in Thomas' sincere, often humorous commercials that were very successful for the company.

"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.

"Dave passed his torch to all of us in the company he loved. We'll miss him dearly and we promise to carry on the culture and tradition he created for us," he added.

Thomas was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and was adopted at six weeks old by a Michigan couple. Late in his life, he became a passionate advocate for the cause of adoption, and in 1992, created the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. The foundation is dedicated to raising awareness for the 134,000 foster children available for adoption, and helping to make adoption easier and more affordable.

Thomas is survived by his wife of forty-seven years, Lorraine, five children: Pam, Ken, Molly, Wendy and Lori, and sixteen grandchildren. Arrangements are pending and will be made public as they are available.

Update
Chick-fil-A Founder Truett Cathy issued the following statement regarding the passing of Wendy's founder Dave Thomas:

"It has been my honor and privilege to know Dave for many years on both a personal and professional level. Right now, my thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Lorraine, and the rest of his family.

"Dave and I owed our long friendship to the similar paths we both have followed—from humble beginnings, to success in the restaurant industry, to our mutual love for children and support of youth-oriented causes. I am proud to also be a fellow Horiato Alger Award recipient with Dave.

"Today, the quick-service restaurant industry mourns the loss of a true visionary, pioneer, and patriarch. For those of us who were fortunate enough to know Dave, today we mourn the loss of a caring and compassionate leader, mentor, father, father-figure and friend."