At first, Thomas, who was the head cook at a restaurant, and the Clausses declined Sanders’ offer, but the Colonel persisted and the Clauss family franchised their restaurant with KFC and later also owned many other KFC franchises in the Midwest. During this time, Thomas worked with Sanders on many projects to make KFC more profitable and to give it brand recognition. Among other things Thomas suggested to Sanders that were implemented: KFC’s signature chicken bucket (to keep the chicken crisp), reduce the number of items on the menu, focus on a signature dish. Thomas also suggested Sanders make commercials that he appear in himself. Thomas was sent by the Clauss family in the mid-1960s to help turn around four failing KFC stores they owned in Columbus, Ohio.
By 1968 Thomas had increased sales in the four fried chicken restaurants so much that he sold his share in them back to Sanders for more than $1.5 million. This experience would prove invaluable to Thomas when he began Wendy’s about a year later.