In a new interview, Wendy Thomas-Morse revealed that prior to his death, her dad Dave Thomas apologized for putting her name on the chain
Wendy and Dave Thomas
Credit: Wendy's International

In honor of Wendy’s 50th anniversary, the popular hamburger chain kicked off their 50 Years, 50 Stories campaign with an interview of the woman whose name and likeness inspired the restaurant’s name and logo: Wendy Thomas-Morse.

Wendy was actually born Melinda Lou Thomas, but according to the New York Times, her siblings had difficulty pronouncing her name and called her “Wenda.” Thus, the nickname Wendy was born.

In 1969, when she was 8-years-old, her father Dave Thomas opened his dream fast food joint and named it after her. Today, the iconic hamburger restaurant is the seventh-largest restaurant chain in America and the third-largest hamburger chain. But more than 30 years later, Thomas — who passed away in 2002 — ended up apologizing to her, acknowledging that the name put a lot of pressure on Thomas-Morse.

Dave Thomas Opens The First Wendy's® Restaurant In Columbus, Ohio, At 257 E. Broad Street.
Credit: Wendy's International

She recalls him saying, “You know what? I’m sorry…I should’ve just named it after myself.” And while she agreed with his sentiment at the time, she’s also proud of the position it’s put her in now. “Yeah, it is a lot of pressure,” she responded to her dad at the time.

“I have to do the right thing, because it’s the legacy I have to carry on,” she continued in the interview. “I want to do the right thing by him, because he worked really hard to start this. I know he’s been gone almost 20 years, but he’s still working.”

Thomas-Morse then joked, “The name does have its advantages, though. Sometimes if I need a reservation, it helps!”

Wendy Morse, daughter of Wendy's fast-food chain founder Dave Thomas, gleefully posing under WENDY'S OLD FASHIONED HAMBURGERS sign featuring her 8-yr-old pigtailed visage on its logo outside restaurant.
Credit: Will Mcintyre/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty

In a post on the Wendy’s Square Deal blog last week, Thomas-Morse recalls how her father wanted a “character” for the restaurant since he worked for the Colonel at Kentucky Fried Chicken and “knew how much that persona mattered.” So 50 years ago, he told her to put her hair up in pigtails (she even used pipe cleaners to keep them in place), got out his camera, and started snapping photos. She recalls her dad saying, “Yep, it’s going to be Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers.”

Over the next few decades, she witnessed the chain’s journey to achieving “big deal” status. Her dad was a “master” at representing Wendy’s to the media and successfully marketing himself, starring in more than 800 television commercials and becoming known to millions of people as the “folksy character who made a low-key personal pitch for his own fast foods.”

Wendy's founder: Dave Thomas; who visits 50 cities throughout North America in an average year; dropped into town to announce higher earnings and plans to double in size in Canada to 280 outlets by 1995

But Thomas-Morse also participated in some of the press events and recalls some of the physical pain that came with the territory: “My mom made my blue and white dress and she stuck my hair up in pigtails. And, boy, did I cry. It hurt…[my mom] stuck those pipe cleaners in there. We sat in front of the photographer for what felt like five or six hours.” At the same time, however, she loved some of the big store openings: “I got to wear my dress and they made this huge hamburger…I got to take a bite out of it and I was just to-the-moon excited.”

While Dave Thomas died from liver cancer in 2002, his legacy lives on through his daughter, who feels more encouraged and motivated by the Wendy’s brand today than ever before: “I love this brand. I will always love this brand, but not because my name is on the buildings. I love our products. I love our hamburgers. I just love everything. Why wouldn’t I? It’s our business. Our family business. For me, Wendy’s is my family.”

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Fellow fans of the chain can participate in the birthday celebrations with the release of their first new Frosty flavor ever: the Birthday Cake Frosty. The limited-edition frozen treat is a twist on Wendy’s signature creamy vanilla dessert. It’s mixed with the flavors of a classic birthday cake and sold in four sizes: junior, small, medium, and large. They’ve already released the Birthday Cake Frosty Cookie Sundae, which comes in one-size and tops the new Frosty flavor with sugar cookie pieces and sprinkles.

Wendy's Birthday Cake Frosty

In addition, the hamburger chain is giving away free food on their app to celebrate the big 5-0. Prizes can be redeemed while mobile ordering, and they include Spicy Chicken Sandwiches, Dave’s Single Cheeseburgers, Double Stack Cheeseburgers, 4-Piece Chicken Nuggets, small Chocolate Frosty’s, French Fries, and a free small soft drink.