Original Wendy’s restaurant closes its doors

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A little more than 37 years after it opened its doors for business, the Original Wendy’s in downtown Columbus is closing its doors for the final time this evening. The company says that location has been losing money since 1999, and it’s time to shut it down.

On its last day of operation, the Original Wendy’s saw booming business, something it has not seen in close to a decade. Hundreds of people turned out for a final burger or Frosty. By noon, the line was out the front doors.

James Jones ordered a Wendy’s lunch for the last time Friday afternoon, at least at the original location. Jones was just a child when his mother took him to the burger chain.

“The first time I came here I was six years old. My mom took me to the dentist, you know, she treated me to Wendy’s afterwards. And I’ve been to this restaurant ever since. We used to go to school trips to COSI and then, you know, leave COSI and come here. I thought it was great,” Jones said.

Jones was certainly not the only child who visited Wendy’s after a day at the science museum across the street. Nancy English, who was having hamburgers with her family, also had fond memories to share about the store.

“I think it’s kind of sad. I do, since it’s the original one, I think it’s sad. I had my first Frosty here, and I tried to drink it through a straw. Not a good idea,” English said.

Wendy’s opened for business on November 15, 1969. By 1997 the company had 5,000 locations around the world. By 1999, the first store started to lose money. Wendy’s spokesperson Denny Lynch said the part of the problem began when COSI moved to another location.

“There’s a lot of sentimentality to it, and there’s a lot of emotion that’s tied to it as well. But we are a business, and this is a business that at that store isn’t growing; downtown location, no drive-thru or pick-up window, very little night business, virtually no weekend business so no prospects to grow,” Lynch said.

And Lynch does not deny that Wendy’s Incorporated, a billion dollar business, could keep the store open if it wanted to. But he said that’s probably not what founder Dave Thomas would have wanted.

“You look at the business side of this and it’s an easy decision. And then you look at the emotional, the sentimentality and it’s a far more difficult decision. We’ve put off making this decision for years and years and years. But our founder, Dave Thomas, was very focused on running a business and he would’ve been the first to say you know we can’t live on sentimentality,” Lynch said.

Lynch said it’s been suggested to the company to turn the store into a museum. But Lynch said it’s already a museum of sorts with decades of pictures covering the store’s walls, but no one goes to see it any more.

Justin Register and Jeff Monhollon, both from Cincinnati, are in Columbus on business. Register and Monhollon were shocked when they were told they were eating at the original restaurant on its final day. Jeff Monhollon said that news explained all of the commotion.

“I’m glad we came today because if we’d come tomorrow we wouldn’t be here I guess. I guess I’m surprised, too, because it does look like a nice Wendy’s. It’s probably the biggest Wendy’s I’ve ever been to,” Monhollon said.

The lunch hour also brought in long-time company employees. Gloria Soffe began working for Wendy’s the year it opened, as a bookkeeper by night and a jack-of-all trades by day. Soffe was employed by the company until she had her first child. Then about eight years ago, founder Dave Thomas asked her to come back to work for his adoption foundation. She said she just had to come back this week to say a final good bye to the store that sort of set off her career.

“I was here Tuesday. I came here today with the staff of the foundation. And tonight I’m going to come back by at the last hour. You seem a little emotional. I am. Yeah. It’s, uh, was really a good ride,” Soffe said.

All of the store’s memorabilia will be moved to corporate headquarters in Dublin.

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