Wendy’s Founder Dave Thomas Was Inspired By This Kalamazoo Burger Joint
Despite having grown up in West Michigan I must admit, there is still so much I don't know about my own hometown and surroundings. I can't believe after all these years I'm still learning!
When someone recently told me Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy's fast food chain, grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan I didn't believe them at first. I immediately went straight to the source-- Wikipedia-- to learn that it was in fact true. Did you know?
Dave Thomas was born in New Jersey and adopted at a young age by Rex and Auleva Thomas. Subsequently, that's one of the major reasons Dave chose to be an advocate for adoption and eventually founded the Dave Thomas Adoption Foundation.
Dave spent his early years living with his grandmother near Kalamazoo before moving with his father to Knoxville, TN and later Fort Wayne, IN. However, according to Thomas' autobiography, it was in Kalamazoo where he learned some of the most important lessons about service and respect, which came in handy with his future business endeavors.
Founded in Flint, MI in 1923 as Kewpee Hotel Hamburgs, the Kewpee Hamburgers brand is the second oldest chain of fast food restaurants according to Wikipedia. The original Flint branch is also considered the home of the olive burger.
Kewpee Hamburgers expanded into nearby states and across Michigan, and it was the Kewpee restaurant in Kalamazoo which Thomas credits as the inspiration for Wendy's; specifically the Kewpee at Burdick and South.
Many acknowledge a 2001 interview where Dave gave insight into those early years growing up in Kalamazoo. Residing near the intersection of Kalamazoo Ave. and Douglas, Dave would often visit the Kewpee location downtown to order their square burgers and milkshakes-- staples of Dave's own menu to this day!
The First Wendy's
Eventually, Dave went on to settle in Columbus, OH where he opened the first Wendy's on November 15, 1969. According to WWMT, Dave came back to Kalamazoo in 1974 to open the first Wendy's franchise in Michigan with William Van Domelen. Van Domelen would later go on to start our beloved Hot 'n Now fast food chain.
I never knew there was so much burger history in West Michigan! Although Dave Thomas' time in Kalamazoo was brief, it clearly left a major impact on him-- and me! Wendy's junior bacon cheeseburger is my weakness and Hot 'N Now will always hold a special place in my heart. Thanks, Dave.