For an industry that prides itself on convenience and indulgence, a fiber-rich pseudo-vegetable that’s hard to eat on the go and isn’t deep-fried seems like a curious addition to a fast food menu. Yet Wendy’s has been selling baked potatoes for nearly three decades—11-and-a-half ounces of pure, unpeeled spud, drowned in your choice of toppings.
According to Thrillist writer Wil Fulton, who spoke with Wendy’s vice president of culinary innovation Lori Estrada, the chain first got turned on to the foil-wrapped food in the 1980s, when nutrition experts were (erroneously) touting low-fat diets for weight loss. Eager to embrace the trend, Wendy's viewed a plain potato as a popular alternative to sliced, oil-slicked fries.
The hysteria over fat may have disappeared, but the collective consumer appetite for the potato did not. Estrada says she believes many of them consider the 270-to-480 calorie (depending on toppings) carb dump a meal unto itself, and that some enjoy piling on cheese, bacon, and other burger trimmings for a tasty and inexpensive dinner.
So why don’t you see baked potatoes at other franchises? Estrada speculates that the logistical issues are a turnoff. The potatoes are cooked from a raw state in convection ovens, which could necessitate new equipment and ample prep time. With fries still the king of sides, franchisees may not think it’s worth the hassle.
Wendy’s is undoubtedly happy to have the market to themselves: The chain sells 1 million tubers a week.