The forgotten story of the first-ever Wendy’s restaurant

John M. Clark

For any Columbus kid, the perfect complement to an afternoon at the old COSI on East Broad was a big cheeseburger and fries at the original Wendy’s, directly across the street – hot ‘n’ juicy fast food made possible by the one and only Dave Thomas.

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Wendy’s founder moved often as a child, as his adopted father roamed the country, looking for work.  At 12, little Dave was employed at a fine dining restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, and later at the Hobby House Restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  When his father was ready to move again, Thomas, now 15, decided to stay behind and continue learning the restaurant business.  It was a decision that would serve him well.

Thomas continued honing his cooking craft while in the military, overseeing meals for 2,000 soldiers a day while based in West Germany.  Upon discharge, he returned to Fort Wayne and a chance encounter with Col. Harland Sanders, who was selling Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises.  Thomas began coaching Sanders on how to improve his business model and, as a result, was hired by a family in Columbus to help turn around three of their struggling KFC franchises.  Columbus became his permanent home.


Without so much as a high school diploma, Thomas had an instinct for serving good food – and promoting it.  In 1969, he opened his first Wendy’s fast-food restaurant at 257 E. Broad St.  Thousands of other locations followed, turning Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

Thomas passed away in 2002, and five years later, due to lagging sales, Wendy’s closed its first restaurant.  But you can still see many historic items from that first location at the flagship Wendy’s in Dublin.

Want to read more? Check out our print publication, (614) Magazine. Learn where you can find a free copy of our new February issue here!


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