The Surprising Birthplace Of Wendy's Famous Frosty

There's one question that the fast food world will likely never provide a definitive answer to: is the Wendy's Frosty a drink or more of a dessert? While it might, were it classified as a milkshake, rank as one of the best ones out there, many consider it too thick to really fall into this category. The Frosty does, however, frequently land at the top of best fast food dessert lists. Plus, there's no denying that fries and a Frosty is the perfect food and beverage pairing. While we do know that the Frosty has been part of Wendy's menu since Dave Thomas opened his first restaurant in 1969, what is less well known is the inspiration behind one of our favorite treats.

During a recent virtual discussion with Wendy's execs attended by Mashed, John Li, Wendy's VP of Culinary Innovation, dropped a surprising revelation. It seems that the Frosty was actually based on a chocolate malt sold at "an Ohio racetrack," a place that Li dubbed "the birthplace of our current Frosty." Wait, what? A racetrack? Like, cars or horses? And since when were either of these types of establishments, at least back in the '60s, known for selling any beverages other than booze? While we can't answer that second question, we did do a little digging and found a bit more of the history behind Li's Frosty anecdote.

Dave Thomas unlocked the not-so-secret formula

On Wendy's blog The Square Deal, this same racetrack story was told by Wendy's Manager of System Communications Alissa Caldwell, herself an over 20-year veteran of the company. She says that the racetrack in question was in the Cleveland area, and was most likely the Jack Thistledown Racino. So, it was racehorses, not stock cars, that those early Wendy's staffers were viewing while they drank their frosted malts. The maltmaster, a man named Herman Weistner, was evidently a friend of theirs, and they took some of his malted mix to Dave Thomas. Thomas became instantly obsessed with mastering the "secret formula," which, luckily, wasn't that secret.

So what was the secret? Mixing a little vanilla into the chocolate. Not only was this done to give the chocolate a smoother, less overwhelmingly chocolatey taste (the better to go with square burgers and fries, after all), but also to make it taste a little maltier without the use of actual malt powder. While Wendy's did eventually introduce a vanilla flavor in 2006, and have had a few short-lived additions to the Frosty menu like their 50th anniversary Birthday Cake Frosty, Li says "chocolate is actually still our number one seller." And for a good reason — it's one thoroughbred that always brings home the win.