All that glitters is not gold…
Far from it, actually, which isn’t to say good looks don’t matter. One glimpse at that fancy-schmancy new Wendy’s fast food acropolis at 91st and Metcalf Saturday – on the hallowed former home of Bud Brown Chrysler – and I had to try it.
It’s not quite chili season and I’d kind forgotten how forgettable Wendy’s “hot and juicy” burgers tasted, so it was the perfect excuse for me to try em again. Anything as badass looking as this week-old Taj ‘Ma-Wendy’s had to be exceptional, right? So in I tromped for a single hamburger with ketchup only and a Coke Zero.
Would the new Wendy’s have Coke Zero?
That’s my measure of fast food hipness, if they have Coke Zero. Wikipedia describes Diet Coke as a chick drink and Coke Zero was introduced in 2005 with a bold black and red label to attract halfway hip dudes. Happily the new Wendy’s had a futuristic new dispenser with a dozen or more soft drink alternatives, including Coke Zero.
Unfortunately my burger still tasted like glorified dog food. I mean, it was okay. So while watching college football on a giant LCD screen above a six or eight foot wide fireplace was kinda cool – for a fast food eatery – I won’t be planning any more pilgrimage anytime soon.
I did have a major flashback on Wendy’s still making a big deal out of its founder Dave Thomas.
Must be the Colonel Sanders Syndrome.
However I met and spent some time with Thomas seven years before he checked out and I can tell you, he was no Colonel Sanders.
Too well groomed, too boring; Thomas was neither an alpha dog nor a southern gentleman.
I hung with Thomas, his wife and a very uncomfortable PR lady in May of 1995 at a hotel just north of the Plaza. For him it was a standard issue PR moment with wife Lorraine doing most of the talking.
What was it like being married to a hamburger icon, I asked?
“I’ll have to think about that one,” Lorraine answered. “I just think of him as an ordinary man We had nothing when we got married and it came gradually, which makes a difference. You learn how to deal with it as it goes.”
The Thomases were in town – bodyguard in tow – to shill for the 28 local Wendy’s. The bodyguard was along to preserve what was left of Dave’s private life since becoming a spokesmodel for Wendy’s after a falling out with “Where’s the beef” septegenarian / spokesmodel Clara Peller .
“Some people leave him alone; some don’t,” Lorriane said.
Bland as Thomas was, he still had his groupies, his wife told me.
“During Dave‘s book tour women kept asking if he’s married,” Lorraine said. “Women like him, the female of the species. What can I say? He gets a lot of proposals.”
Musta been that “hot and juicy” line.
Notice how Thomas wife did all of the talking?
Talk about henpecked fast food icons.
By that time Thomas didn’t dare eat any of his “hot and juicy” burgers – let alone the fries.
Something about Wendy’s being hard on his heart.
“He’s lost 45 pounds in the last nine to 10 months,” Lorraine told me. “And he wants to lose another 15 to 20 pounds at least.”
I left the part about Wendy’s fast food being bad for Thomas out of my story as a small favor to the PR chick, who had promised to send me an autographed copy of his book. Probably so I’d behave after asking all of my oddball questions above.
Guess what? I didn’t, and the promised book never arrived.
A fast food icon with who wouldn’t and couldn’t even eat his own food because it was bad for him. Whose wife did all the talking and beat him at golf. I could almost hear Colonel Sanders (who died in 1980) rolling over in his grave.
So why’s Wendy’s still hawking Thomas, 11 years after the fact?
“He is also known for appearing in more than 800 commercial advertisements for the chain from 1989 to 2002, more than any other company founder in television history.”
Thomas life story is another matter.
He was born in 1932 in Atlantic City to “a young, unmarried woman he never knew.” His adopted mother died when he was 5 and Thomas never made it out of high school. There’s even a Col. Sanders connection, which may explain Thomas penchant for spokes-modeling.
Thomas met Sanders in the mid 1950s when the Colonel convinced him to open a KFC franchise. And after working together for years, Thomas was the one who allegedly talked Sanders into appearing in all those TV spots. You buy that? I’m not so sure.
Early on Thomas was criticized for being stiff and boring in his spots for Wendy’s, which he founded in 1969. Which may explain why he let Lorraine do all of the talking during his PR stint with me in KC.
I dunno though, does anyone under 30 today even know or care who Dave Thomas was?
Even KFC has begun to no longer use the image of Col. Sanders, so my guess is Thomas days are numbered.
Hey, but what do I know?