Michelle Baker of Bowling Green and her three kids were the last customers ever for the city’s first Wendy’s.
“We come here all the time,” Baker said Tuesday afternoon. “We usually use the drive-through to get dinner to take home, or we come inside for snacks. That’s what we are doing today.”
The kids, Gabby, Reaiah and Noah, were getting Frostys for their ride home.
They were saddened to learn that the store on U.S. 31-W By-Pass near Western Kentucky University was closing.
“This is the best Wendy’s in Bowling Green,” Baker said. “They always make sure that your food is hot and you have everything before you leave.”
Baker and her family filed out the door shortly after 3 p.m., and the door locked behind them. Portable letters were taken off the front sign, closed signs were posted on the doors and barricades blocked the parking lot.
There just weren’t enough customers to justify keeping the location going – it was due a major renovation per corporate instructions and the lease on the building was up. Owners Mike O’Malley and John Hughes said it just wasn’t a sound business decision to make the investment in that building.
Corporate headquarters would have required a major change in its design, and the building needed a major roof repair. Black plastic outlined one of the doors and a bucket sat there to catch any leaks.
Lots of people have memories of the restaurant that opened in 1975. For several years, it was the highest volume Wendy’s store in Kentucky, according to David Woody, who started as an assistant manager the year the store opened. Later, he became one of the owners.
“It was the first restaurant in Bowling Green to have a drive-through,” Woody said. “It was the first fast service restaurant to have carpet in the dining room. We had real leaded glass lights. I think I still have one at home.”
It also was a big hangout after WKU games, but now students have many more options, including restaurants on campus.
When Woody started with Wendy’s of Bowling Green, Dan Davis was an owner.
At 23, Davis was the youngest Wendy’s franchisee.
“I remember when we opened ... and it was snowing and we wondered if anyone would show up,” said Davis, who sold Wendy’s of Bowling Green in 1988 when there were 18 locations.
Davis now owns Rafferty’s Inc., and Woody sold his portion in the business 2 1/2 years ago. On Tuesday, the two took home plaques with a brick and mortar from what used to be a planter box in the atrium. The spots where the bricks were removed and replaced were visible.
Davis remembers when Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas and New York ad executive Dick Rich came to the store.
“Rich looked around and saw all the people wiping the corners of their mouths with napkins and that’s when he came up with the phrase ‘hot and juicy,’ ” he said.
Davis and Woody, along with Hughes and O’Malley, ate the last hamburgers served at the store, while waxing nostalgic.
Woody even broke his current vegan lifestyle for the occasion.
Hughes said he would like to build another store in Bowling Green, but it has to be just the right location because of the considerable investment involved – about $2 million for the building and land.
So far, he has looked at potential sites near the Greenwood interchange on Scottsville Road and near South Warren Middle and High Schools, but is undecided if either location is right.
Wendy’s of Bowling Green just finished building a new store in Selma, Ala., and has 43 locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama with more than 1,500 employees. All 20 employees at the closed store have jobs at the other four Wendy’s locations in town.