Regas Restaurant
Dave in the Military, Family-Life & Restaurant Business

Around 1944, Dave got a job at the Regas Restaurant in Knoxville and worked very hard. The owners treated Dave like family, giving him encouragement that had a positive and lasting effect on him, and Dave learned he could be whatever he wanted to be.


After yet another move, 15-year-old Dave found work at the Hobby House Restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He started as a busboy, then worked the fountain and went on to the front kitchen, believing that if he was going to have his own restaurant one day, he needed to know how to do every job. Owner Phil Clauss became his mentor, motivating Dave and teaching him everything about the business.

Teen Dave
Teen Dave working at Hobby House Restaurant

In the early 1950s at the age of 18, Dave joined the Army at the start of the Korean War. From Cook and Baker's School in Fort Benning, Georgia, to becoming one of the youngest soldiers to manage the Enlisted Men's Club, Dave's entrepreneurial spirit and initiative served him well. Dave served in Germany for two and a half years, and in 1953, he returned to his job and restaurant family at the Hobby House. A new waitress, Lorraine Buskirk, caught his eye and they were soon married in 1954. Dave and his wife Lorraine grew their family to include five children – Pam, Ken, Lori, Molly and Melinda (Wendy). All the while, Dave worked toward his goal of owning his own restaurant.


It was 1962 when Dave was finally offered an opportunity he couldn’t pass up – the chance to rejuvenate four failing Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurants in Columbus, Ohio. Dave had met Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC, and he quickly became one of Dave’s strongest mentors. When Phil Clauss bought a KFC franchise, he offered Dave a chance to revive his four failing restaurants in Columbus. Against even the Colonel's advice, Dave took the challenge and succeeded. He trimmed the menu and used creative promotions - swapping chicken meals for radio time and making an illuminated sign that looked like a rotating bucket of chicken. Clauss later sold the restaurants to Dave.

Dave in the Army
Dave Thomas and KFC