You know how I am when it comes to old junk food…it’s something I’m always willing to talk about! I may miss more old foods than most of you, but I can’t help it. I grew up eating some of the worst stuff you can put into your body, and I loved every bit of it. Today, I’m going to spend a little time talking about a place that was near and dear to my heart in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Wendys…and some of the things I miss most about it.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, when my old man would come home each weekend from working out of town, he would always take the family out to eat on Friday or Saturday night. Places like Western Steer and Bonanza were frequent favorites, Pizza Hut was a stop we’d make on occasion, and when we weren’t going to one of those places, the destination was Wendy’s. My Dad liked Wendy’s hamburgers more than other fast food places, and when they introduced the Super Bar, Wendy’s shot up his list even more. So it’s fair to say that I visited Wendy’s a lot in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the major differences between now and then.
I Miss Dave Thomas Doing the Commercials
So first up, let’s take a look at what brings an establishment to people’s attention, and makes them want to visit in the first place…the television commercials advertising the place or products. For years, Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas was a fixture in commercials for his chain. He looked like he could be your own grandpa, and put forth a welcoming personality that didn’t feel like he was starring in an over-produced commercial, but rather inviting you to dinner at his place.
Whether Dave had any hand in the new products that were created, he certainly made each and every one of them he pitched in a commercial feel like it was his own creation. The conviction with which he talked about the new product certainly made it seem like everything unfolded just like the commercial showed…with Dave in a kitchen somewhere whipping up something new and delicious.
Wendy’s commercials over the last 10-20 years have been lacking that “personal” touch that Dave just seemed able to bring. I can tell you that as a kid when a Wendy’s commercial came on with Dave pitching a new product, I was paying attention. And more times than not, I would give them a try.
Most of the time, we get someone trying to come across as hip and modern, but the commercials focus more on trying to be funny (and failing), than getting the vibe across to the viewer what the core values of the restaurant are. That core value back in Dave Thomas’ day was his philosophy of making good, old-fashioned hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. We just need more of that in this world.
I Miss Their Old Tables
One of the coolest features in the old school Wendy’s locations were the tables that featured printed pages from old Sear’s catalogs from the early 1900s. While dining there as a kid, I would marvel at the antique products featured on the table while I chowed down on my burger and fries. I guess you could say I was into retro and nostalgia long before I was old enough to even understand the concept.
These days, they’ve joined the rest of the fast-food profiteers by using plain-looking, boring tables. The next time you’re in a Wendy’s, try to look at the table for more than five seconds without looking away. You can’t. Of course these days, everyone is so busy staring at their phone screens, that even if they still had those old tables, I doubt anyone would even notice. But back in the days before cell phones, those tables gave you something to enjoy while waiting on your parents to bring the food to the table, and while enjoying their many fine offerings.
I Miss Their Old French Fries
This one saddens me a great deal. I was a huge fan of their original french fries for years. They were thicker than the fries at McDonald’s or Burger King, a little less crispy, but fluffier in the middle, and so good. They tasted like french fries we used to make at home. Being that they tasted homemade, they fit perfectly alongside their old-fashioned hamburgers and chicken sandwiches.
Sometime in the early 2000s, they switched to Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt. They made the change around the time that sea salt was the new hot thing, and never reverted back. Their fries of today always taste a little burnt to me. They are thinner, the ends are crisper, and they just aren’t a great-tasting french fry in my opinion. The loss of the thicker french fry meant less surface area for the Frosty to stick to when dipping.
I Miss The Biggie Size
Now I’m all for health-conscious eating, but if you’re going to Wendy’s, you know what you’re in for. So why take away the iconic “Biggie” size? Those who don’t want it, don’t have to order it. But for those of us who do, it’s no longer available. Their Biggie Sweet Tea was awesome, and being able to upgrade your large fries to Biggie size should be protected under the “Freedom of Choice” provision in the United States Constitution.
When the fries were as good as they used to be back in their glory days, a large order of them sometimes just wasn’t enough. Especially if you were dipping them in a Frosty. Which, if you never tried that, you’ve not been living your best life. Of all the things on this list, being able to order a Biggie size order of fries and dip every single one of them into a chocolate frosty ranks with all of them.
I Miss the Original Taco Salad
On the weekends when my Dad wasn’t able to come home, my Mom and I would go out on Saturday afternoon and eat at either McDonald’s or Wendy’s. When it was Wendy’s, that meant it was Taco Salad for lunch. It’s what she liked, so it’s what I got as well so we could enjoy the same thing.
The Taco Salad was unique but quite simple. You got a platter of lettuce with some diced tomatoes, a cup of their chili to pour over that, some shredded cheddar cheese and some taco sauce for topping, and a small bag of taco chips to enjoy with it. We would mix them up and talk as we ate, and I have a lot of fond memories attached to the classic Taco Salad.
About 15 years ago, they decided to change it. No longer were there taco chips…they were replaced with tortilla strips. The pack of taco sauce was replaced with salsa. The diced tomatoes went away. Their sales of the Taco Salad also went away. Once again, they tried to “modernize” one of their menu offerings and appeal to a small segment of the market with what they considered a “fancier” version. There was never anything wrong with the original version, but they gave it the ax anyway.
Just a couple of years ago, they reversed course and redesigned the Taco Salad once again. It’s closer to what it was back in the old days, but still not quite there. The taco chips are back, but you still get salsa instead of taco sauce. And the main dish is smaller. That’s probably more a result of modern finance than anything, but to me, it still keeps it from being like it was.
I Miss The SuperBar
Of all the things Wendy’s tried through the years, the Superbar was the idea that I liked the most. It was a set of three food bars that expanded their dine-in options several times over and was a big hit. One bar was a salad bar, with normal salad bar options, as well as some jello and pudding for dessert. The next bar was the Mexican Fiesta bar, which had all the things you needed to make tacos and burritos like chili, seasoned beef, shredded cheese, melted nacho cheese, taco shells, and soft tortillas. The third bar was the Pasta Bar which featured spaghetti noodles, fettuccine noodles, spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce, and garlic bread that was made by flattening and grilling their hamburger buns with garlic salt and butter. It was delicious.
While the SuperBar as it was presented was just fine like it was, there was a little something else that could be done with it. My dad would order a baked potato, and when you ordered a potato, you could take it to the SuperBar to top it. I’m not sure if that was an extra cost or not though. But my dad would go to the Mexican Fiesta bar and load his potato with the chili and melted nacho cheese. I saw him do this a couple of times and decided to try it myself. After I had topped my potato, I sat down and started to devour it just like my old man…and it was delicious! But he stopped me after a couple of bites and told me that I was doing it wrong. I was perplexed at the age of 11 years old and he could see that, so he enlightened me. He explained that to get the most out of the experience, you first consumed just the chili and cheese from the potato, and then you go back and refill the potato with more chili and cheese. Then you consume the whole thing as I was previously doing.
The SuperBar was our go-to order while they had it in their stores. A lot of Friday or Saturday nights were spent eating from it while talking and laughing as a family before we would hit the department stores in town where Mom would do her shopping for the week. To me, the Superbar is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Wendy’s, and it’s a shame they had to get rid of it. As I’ve read in the years since, the bar was a loss leader for the stores, and it provided so much extra work for the staff to keep it neat and clean. I understand why it died off as a concept, but that doesn’t stop me from sorely missing it.
So there you have several things I miss about Wendy’s from “the old days”. While I do miss the things above, I know it’s more the nostalgia of it all…enjoying the times with my family, and how those Friday and Saturday nights were just so much fun for me at that age. It’s a period of time that can’t be recaptured, much the same as everything else I reminisce about here on the blog.
If you’ve got fond memories of any of this old Wendy’s stuff, or are nostalgic for other things I didn’t bring up, I’d love to hear your memories and stories in the comments. Hit me up and we’ll grieve together.