Thomas founded his first Wendy's in Columbus, Ohio in 1969, and by 1996 the chain (Wendy was his daughter Melinda's nickname), consisted of 4,800 establishments in the United States and more than 30 countries across the globe. He achieved all of this without earning his high school diploma (he did finally receive one in 1993), which he later listed as one of the biggest mistakes of his life. "We have 4,000 restaurants today, but if I had gotten my high school diploma, we might have 8,000," he said.
But his work outside of the burger world was just as important to him as his business endeavors. Thomas, who was himself adopted, became an outspoken supporter of adoption and adoption awareness. He donated the profits from his two books, "Dave's Way," and "Well Done," to his foundation, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. He also appeared before Congress to stress the importance of motivating Americans to adopt children. "I know firsthand how important it is for every child to have a home and loving family," he said. "Without a family, I would not be where I am today."