First Wendy's closes its doors

COLUMBUS, Ohio - They came in droves, regulars and first-timers, children, parents and grandparents, to order burgers, fries and milkshakes at the first Wendy's restaurant, which closed Friday after 37 years downtown because of persistent lagging sales.

 

Some called the decision corporate greed. Others shrugged, saying they understood the decision.

"If Dave Thomas knew he would roll over in his grave," said Drenna Burke, a broker's assistant who works around the corner. She ate often at the dark brick restaurant with a distinctive blue-and-white aluminum trim and Thursday was snapping pictures of Wendy's paraphernalia.

"You can't tell me that Wendy's doesn't make enough profit that they can continue to keep this open," Ms. Burke said. "It's all about greed and it's all about money."

Mr. Thomas, who died in 2002, opened the restaurant in a former steakhouse on a cold, snowy Saturday on Nov. 15, 1969. He was accompanied by actor Danny Thomas, a longtime friend, and later became known as the company's pitchman in commercials for the nation's third-largest hamburger chain.

The restaurant fell victim to tight parking and sparse dinner or weekend business in a downtown that largely shuts down after 5 p.m., despite the city's efforts to increase housing and entertainment options.

The restaurant averaged only about half of the $1.4 million in annual business done by a typical Wendy's store.

"We can tell when we come by at night there's no business at all - there's limited parking and obviously no drive through," said Jon Montzler, an attorney with the state who often lunched at the restaurant with his wife, Jennifer, and their two preschool sons.

Mr. Thomas' son, Ken, said he sees both sides of the argument.

"My father taught me that profit's really not a dirty word," Ken Thomas said Thursday.

"People say, 'Well, we're going to do it Dave's way,'" he said. "Well, if you're going to do it Dave's way, then you need to close this restaurant."

 

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