Wendy's has been reborn. After being closed since October, the Fort Dodge Wendy's has been serving customers since Dec. 19, 2013, from a new home at the same address as before.
There has been a Wendy's in Fort Dodge at 2313 Fifth Ave. S. for nearly four decades. The old structure was demolished in October and has been replaced with a new building that reflects the company's changing image as the 21st century unfolds.
Dennis Johnson, who with his wife Jean Johnson has owned the Wendy's franchise in Fort Dodge since December 1981, said the goal of the rebuild was to produce a restaurant that will be in sync with evolving customer tastes far into the future.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Wendy’s restaurant co-owner Mark Miller prepares to welcome guests to the newly constructed building. The structure, recently opened, was built next to the old one, which was torn down.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Wendy’s assistant manager Anne Engman demonstrates the new soft drink dispenser. The machine can produce such exotic flavors as cola with lime flavoring.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Wendy’s Restaurant co-owner Mark Miller shows off a comfortable seating area that features a built-in electronic fireplace and television.
Wendy's has been a significant success story locally, but Johnson said the old building was showing its age and had significant shortcomings.
"It was a 35-year-old store that was in need of some repair and a face-lift," he said. "Also, Wendy's is moving to a new image that this new store represents."
The reborn Wendy's is housed in a much larger, 4,200-square-foot structure. The building it replaced was 2,300 square feet.
The dining room has about 25 percent more seating. It is much more spacious and upscale than its predecessor.
"The other dining room was pretty cramped," Johnson said. "We just outgrew it with our volume. We felt with this one we should have more room and more seats to be able to accommodate the increase in sales and make it a more pleasant atmosphere for dining."
The new Wendy's dining room is an appealing venue in which to relax while enjoying a meal.
"Our dining room has two TVs," Johnson said. "We have the WiFi. We have a fireplace. It's much more of a casual dining feel."
Mark Miller, who has been operational manager of the local Wendy's for 21 years and is now a part owner, underlined that point and emphasized how Wendy's is transforming the dining ambience at its outlets.
"Wendy's is attempting to move in the direction of 'just come on in and enjoy Wendy's' instead of hustle you in and hustle you out with a fast-food attitude. It is a real change," he said. "Everybody is just loving the colors, the richness of the wood, the appearance."
Longtime Wendy's patrons will find much that is familiar in the new store including, of course, the menu items that have proved popular over the years.
Miller said customers returning after almost three months without being able to partake of Wendy's cuisine have been telling staff members what they missed most.
"One of the big things we heard was I've got to have my chili fix," Miller said. "Chili was by far the thing that people said they most missed the opportunity to have. ... It definitely is a product that brings people in. We make our chili here in the store. It actually takes four hours to cook and simmer. It's part of the good quality that people are demanding."
Many customers also missed the convenience of the store's drive-through.
Johnson said it has long been a popular feature and drive-through sales account for more than 50 percent of the store's business.
He said drive-through service is so common today in the restaurant world that many people may not recall that it was pioneered by Wendy's nationally.
"Wendy's came up with the drive-through idea," Johnson said. "Since then, everybody else has picked up on the idea."
The drive-through experience locally should be improved by one of the enhancements featured at the new store.
"We have more of a stack area, which is the amount of cars we can put on the lot and off the street," Johnson said. "That should be beneficial at busy times."
He said customers will continue to find the drive-through option convenient and easy to use.
"We have a good reputation about our drive- through," Johnson said. "We can put them through very fast and people know that if they are going to wait, it won't be for a long time. It will be pretty quick."
Customers taking advantage of the dine-in option will notice some innovative, high-tech additions.
"One of the changes, we've gone from Pepsi to Coke," Miller said. "We have what are called free-style machines. There are two machines that give the customer the opportunity to come up with over 150 different varieties of drinks. ... For example, if they like Coke they can get Coke with anything from cherry to raspberry to orange, lime, lemon, vanilla. People are just amazed to look at it. ... It's a higher-tech type thing. It's all done by a touch screen."
About Wendy's in Fort Dodge
Wendy's was a key business on Fifth Avenue South long before that thoroughfare became known as the Corridor of Commerce.
Johnson said the improvements in the last few years have made what was an already good place to operate a business even better.
"The more retail you can get in the area, the better it is going to be," he said. "The more things you have, the more you attract people to Fort Dodge from farther out."
He said the secret of his store's success is quite straightforward.
"I just think it's our quality product and our service," Johnson said. "Our employees are really good about taking care of the customer. It's just a combination of all of that."
He also said Wendy's corporately has done a good job of responding to an evolving marketplace.
"Wendy's is an innovator in a lot of items like specialty sandwiches," Johnson said, by way of example. "Over the years we have had quite a few things that have been marketed and promoted and been very successful. In fact our spicy chicken sandwich was at one time a limited-time offer and has since become one of the main menu items."
Johnson and Miller said they have been impressed by how quick their loyal customers were to return once the restaurant reopened.
"We would like to thank all our Wendy's customers for your tremendous response to the reopening of our restaurant in a brand new building. ... We're happy to see people relaxing and enjoying the new dining area, and appreciate all the nice compliments we've received regarding the design of the new building," Johnson said. "Thanks for giving us the opportunity to serve you."
The Fort Dodge Wendy's has a work force that normally includes between 40 and 45 employees. It is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.