The Founder of Wendy’s Named Restaurant Chain After Daughter And Regretted It

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Wendy's got its name thanks to familyWendy's got its name thanks to family

Wendy’s first opened its doors in 1969. Founder Dave Thomas utilized what he learned as a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise owner. By the time he was looking to open his own chain, the market was full of hamburger joints, but Thomas wanted to create one less geared towards children and more for adults.

The problem was that although he had a clear vision and useful experience, his restaurant still needed a name. To further captivate his target audience of older Americans, he wanted something nostalgic and so looked to his own children’s names for inspiration. That’s when he he decided on Melinda Lou.

Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas took inspiration from his daughter Melinda Lou

Thomas and his wife Lorraine shared five children together: daughters Pam, Lori, Molly, Melinda, and Kenny. Melinda was around eight years old when Thomas was working on his restaurant chain and actually had a hard time saying her own name; her pronunciation ended up sounding like “Wenda.” Ultimately, Wendy and Wenda ended up her nicknames. From there, he took that final step and decided to use the name Wendy.

Thomas also knew from his time with KFC that having a mascot was important for drawing a connection with potential patrons. Using the name Wendy played into this business strategy.

“To me, nothing would be a more appealing advertisement than showing a little girl, smiling and rosy-cheeked,” enjoying the chain’s hamburgers, explained Thomas. “Her cleanly-scrubbed, freckled face was it. I knew that was the name and image for the business.”

Thomas came to regret the name of Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers

The decision was an effective one, but one that came with consequences for the real Melinda “Wendy” Lou Thomas.

“She’s lost some of her privacy,” Thomas reflected in his autobiography. “Because some people still take her for the official company spokesperson, sometimes she hedges speaking her mind. I don’t blame her.”

Wendy's is named after Dave Thomas's daughter Melinda Lou, nicknamed Wendy or WendaWendy's is named after Dave Thomas's daughter Melinda Lou, nicknamed Wendy or Wenda
Wendy’s is named after Dave Thomas’s daughter Melinda Lou, nicknamed Wendy or Wenda / Flickr

Thomas regretted his choice so much that he issued an official apology to Melinda, saying, “I should’ve just named it after myself, because it put a lot of pressure on you.”

Today, Melinda is 62 years old and graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in consumer behaviorism back in ‘83. By September 2010, Melinda owned or co-owned over 30 Wendy’s stores. As an official Wendy’s franchisee, she continues to manage the Wendy’s legacy online, including with celebratory posts honoring the chain’s 50th anniversary in 2019.



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