The most influential family figure in Thomas' life was his adoptive grandmother, Minnie Sinclair. She worked several jobs to support herself, an example that gave Thomas a different view of working women than that held by many men of his generation.
The company's signature square-shaped hamburgers even trace their origins to one of Sinclair's homespun philosophies about producing quality products: don't cut corners.
"She was a modern woman ahead of her time." Says Thomas. "She worked several jobs and kept everything afloat financially. By watching her, I saw that women can accomplish just as much as men at work -- sometimes more."
Yet, despite his jovial exterior, Thomas says it was the loneliness he experienced as an adoptee who often felt "different from everybody else" that caused him to devote his retirement years to adoption causes.
Feeling like an outsider is an experience adman Berlin knows well. Berlin was adopted as an infant by Sally and Sam Berlin, a public relations expert and stockbroker, who lived outside Philadelphia. Berlin had a close, loving relationship with his adoptive parents, but as a child, he'd sometimes daydream that his biological parents were Martians.
"I felt very different from other kids," recalls Berlin. "Sometimes, I literally thought I'd come from another planet."
As one of only a few Jewish children attending the Germantown Academy, Berlin was a tortured poetjock who played football by day and wrote prize-winning prose by night. For him, being adopted served as a creative launching pad for his career as an ad writer and entrepreneur. Berlin has founded a series of smaller, maverick ad shops, including what is today Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
"There's a perfect parallel between adoption and some kind of creative career," he says. "When you are adopted, you are always searching and looking for new ways to define and reinvent yourself. One of the beauties of it is you aren't limited to following the genetic blueprint you see in other family members."
This article was first published in USA TODAY. It is reprinted here with permission.