Terry Teeter probably cannot tell you the number of times he has asked, “Would you like fries with that?”
However, for all the times he has asked that, it is always done with a smile and a genuine note of sincerity.
Teeter has been an employee of Wendy’s of Sedalia for almost a quarter of a century. Hired in 1983 by the franchise, he left in 1989 but returned once again to the restaurant in 1997.
“I started in Sedalia on Aug. 14, 1983, right before the start of the Missouri State Fair as a manager trainee,” Teeter said. “I was 23 years old and I was making $4.75 an hour.”
When he began at the restaurant, he had to learn every aspect of the business. That included scheduling employees and ordering the weekly food needed as well as the other supplies for the business, to learning the proper order to putting condiments on a sandwich, and the more mundane tasks including slicing gallons of fresh onions daily or changing the carbon dioxide tanks for the soda machines.
“Back then we were so much more labor intensive,” Teeter said. “We had to prep everything ourselves.”
Wendy’s prides itself on using products that are never frozen, including the meat they serve. When Teeter first began, even the meat was pattied in each store daily. Now it comes pre-pattied to each store, but is refrigerated and still not frozen.
“One of the reason’s Dave (Thomas, founder of Wendy’s) started the chain was because he had gone to a fast food restaurant and wanted a hamburger without ketchup. He was told at the time he could not order one like that,” Teeter said.
“That’s when he decided that a customer should be able to get what he wanted the way he wanted it,” Teeter added. “He wanted his customers to feel welcome and that they were coming into his home.”
Teeter still feels the franchise operates in that manner today.
“I can remember working with some really great people here at Wendy’s; we really were like a family,” Teeter said. “It’s still true today, but when I left the first time I may not have realized how true that actually was then.”
When Teeter left in 1989 it was to move to the Kansas City area and work for Olive Garden.
Shortly after his arrival there, he went to work for Taco Bell after being lured away, as Teeter described it, with the possibility of supervising multiple franchises.
“That opportunity didn’t come true and so then I was offered a position with Popeye’s Fried Chicken,” Teeter said. “I loved that job. I was working for a man named Jim Eddy who was old-school Kansas City.
“I was a district manager and I quickly learned that life in the city managing a restaurant was much different than in Sedalia. I had concerns about security and safety that I never had in Sedalia.”
Eddy was friend with Sam Hamra, who owns the area Wendy’s franchises, and it was Hamra who bought Teeter back to Sedalia. He had two stops to make first.
“I went to work for Sam in the Springfield area as a supervisor for Hardee’s,” Teeter said. “I liked the job but at 4:30 one morning I got the phone call that no one wants to get.”
His brother Larry had battled a rare form of cancer for numerous years, but had gone into remission.
“I got a phone call from my family telling me that Larry had gone out of remission and that he had lost 35 to 40 pounds. His cancer was inoperable,” Teeter said.
“I knew I had to come back and be here for him and my family. I made a phone call to Sam who told me that the store in Sedalia wasn’t available at the time but that I could go to the Wendy’s in Warrensburg. I told him to save it for me and I haven’t left.”
Teeter is now a District supervisor for the chain, overseeing five stores: Warrensburg, Clinton, Bolivar, Harrisonville and Sedalia.
“They knew how much my family meant to me and the let me come back,” Teeter said. “This is my family for me.”
Teeter and his Wendy’s family have been recognized for their efforts.
In 2009, he and the employees in Sedalia were awarded first place in the “Every Customer Counts Campaign.” The Sedalia store was chosen from 698 other in the southwest region.
The award was based on guest service points awarded by customers for the quality of service in the restaurant.
Currently, two of the top five grossing franchises are stores that Teeter oversees. Warrensburg is No. 1 and Sedalia is No. 5.
According to Teeter, the industry has changed since he began almost 35 years ago.
“Customers want it fast but fresh, and they want it fresh but value priced,” Teeter said. “The complexity of our menu represents what they want as well.”
Ultimately, for Teeter, it comes down to one basic thing: family.
“The challenge for me, for all of us really is to know that you have to appreciate your customers, but you have to appreciate a good employee as much as you do your customers,” he said.
“After 24 plus years here I still recognize customers from when I first started. I love seeing them come back. Now some of the employees who I first work with are coming back and asking me if I would consider hiring their children. It really is the ultimate compliment. It’s what makes us family.”