|Founded||Corpus Christi, Texas, 1950|
|Founder(s)||Harmon Dobson, Paul Burton|
|Headquarters||San Antonio, Texas, United States|
|Number of locations||735 as of September 2012[update] |
|Area served||Southern United States|
|Products||Whataburger, Whatacatch, Whatachick'n|
|Owner(s)||Family owned by Tom, Lynne and Hugh Dobson, and 25 franchisers|
|Employees||22,500 as of September 2012[update] |
Whataburger is a privately held, American regional fast food restaurant chain that specializes in hamburgers. The company, founded by Harmon Dobson and Paul Burton, opened its first restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1950. The chain is owned and operated by the Dobson family, along with twenty-five franchisers. As of September 2012[update], there are over 735 Whataburger stores across the Southern United States region.
Whataburger was known for many years for its distinct A-framed orange-and-white stripe-roofed buildings. The first A-frame restaurant was built in Odessa, Texas, and is now a historical landmark. Over a dozen of the A-frame stores are still in operation.
The company's menu includes the "Whataburger", the "Whataburger Jr." (a smaller version of the Whataburger), the "Justaburger" (a Whataburger Jr. with only mustard, pickles, and onions), the "Whatacatch" (fish sandwich), and the "Whatachick'n" (chicken). Other food items, such as taquitos and salads, are available and breakfast items are typically offered between 11 p.m. and 11 a.m.
In 1950, entrepreneur Harmon Dobson worked with Paul Burton to found a hamburger company. Dobson's goal was to "make a better burger that took two hands to hold and tasted so good that when you took a bite you would say 'What a burger!'" In June 1950, Dobson was granted the Whataburger trademark. He received his 5-inch buns from the Rainbo bakery run by G.M. Atkinson where they hand made a set of pans for the buns. On August 8, they opened Whataburger #1 on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, Texas, across from Del Mar College. The store sold burgers for 25 cents, and also sold drinks and chips.
In 1951, Burton and Dobson ended their partnership after arguments concerning Dobson's price raise of the burger from 25 to 30 cents. Burton settled with owning the Whataburger franchises in San Antonio, Texas. Months later, prices for burgers were raised to 35 cents. In 1952, Dobson opened "Whataburger #4" in Kingsville, Texas, the first store outside of Corpus Christi. In 1953, Joe Andrews, Sr. became the first non-founder franchise owner with "Whataburger #5" in Alice, Texas. In 1959, "Whataburger #21", in Pensacola, Florida, became the first Whataburger restaurant outside Texas.
1960s and 70s
By 1960, there were over 17 Whataburger stores spread across Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. Inspired by his love for flying, Dobson designed the orange and white striped A-frame store, which he later opened as "Whataburger #24", in Odessa, Texas, in 1961.
In 1962, the company added French fries and hot pies to the menu.[why?] In 1963, it expanded to Arizona and totaled 26 stores. In 1965, it estimated selling 15,000 burgers daily in the Texas Coastal Bend area. In 1967, Dobson commissioned the "Flying W" company logo, and the company had expanded to "40 restaurants in four states."
On April 11, 1967, Dobson and an associate died in an airplane crash. Dobson's widow, Grace, took control of the business. In 1969, Grace became chairman of the board.
In 1971, the company opened its first drive-through store, and in 1972, it opened its 100th store. In 1974, the A-frame design was changed to a "Modern A-Frame" to accommodate drive-throughs and larger dining rooms. The company ranked in the top 25 fast-food restaurants.
1980s and 90s
In 1980, the company opened its 300th store. In 1982, three Corpus Christi stores began 24/7 service. In 1983, the company added Breakfast on a Bun, the Whatachick'n sandwich and breakfast taquitos to its menu. In 1987, it opened its 400th store, and also shut down operations in California.
In 1993, Harmon and Grace Dobson's son, Tom, became the CEO and President. The menu expanded, offering Whatameal packages, cookies and biscuits, and chicken strips. The company celebrated its 500th store opening in 1995, and was noted as the country's eighth-largest hamburger chain.
On May 6, 1999, the company opened "Whataburger by the Bay" on Shoreline Drive in Corpus Christi. It is the largest Whataburger store at 6,000 square feet (560 m2). The site includes a life-size bronze statue of Harmon Dobson.
On August 8, 2000, Whataburger celebrated its 50th anniversary with 575 operating stores. In 2003, it hired Austin-based advertising firm McGarrah Jessee, which created an advertising campaign featuring the gravelly voice of Ohio actor William Bassett. In 2007, the company achieved 700 stores in ten states with annual revenue of $1 billion.
In 2008, the company considered moving inland in anticipation of Hurricane Ike hitting the coast. It set up a crisis management team in Uptown San Antonio, and later moved its headquarters there in 2009.
In October 2011, the company changed its television ads from Bassett's voiceovers to "documentary-style ads employees and customers using their own words to describe what makes Whataburger special." By the end of the year, it had 728 stores operating in ten states. The Dobson family owns 611 stores, and the other "117 are owned and operated by about 25 franchisers."
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Whataburger has added different kinds of promotional and limited-time-only food products such as the Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich, the A.1. Thick and Hearty Burger, Patty Melt, and the Peppercorn Ranch Whatachick'n. Some of their products would be permanently added to the menu, including the Three-Piece Chicken Strips Whatameal and the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit. The taquito has been a customer favorite, selling 34 million in 2009, and has occasionally gone on sale during the Christmas season.
- In 1998, the company introduced the A.1. Thick and Hearty Burger which featured "two beef patties topped with bacon, cheese, grilled onions and A.1. Thick & Hearty Steak Sauce." The burger was retired in December 2009, and even had a promotional "support group and hotline".
- In 2003, the company introduced the Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich, which featured "three crispy chicken strips and two slices of Monterey Jack cheese."
- In July 2008, the company introduced the Patty Melt, which featured "two fresh, never frozen American beef patties, two slices of Monterey Jack cheese, grilled onions, and Whataburger's famous Creamy Pepper Sauce. And it's served between two thick slices of signature Texas Toast." Director Rich Sheffler remarked that it was one of their most popular limited time items and even inspired a fan-created Facebook page.
- In July 2009, the company introduced the Chop House Cheddar Burger, which featured "two 100 percent fresh, never-frozen, American beef patties grilled to perfection, topped with grilled onions, melted shredded cheddar cheese, two slices of crispy bacon and creamy steak sauce on a fresh, toasted five-inch bun."
- In July 2012, the company redesigned the menus, including a "550 calories or less" listing.
- In 2013, Whataburger partnered with another Texas institution, H-E-B, to bottle and sell its brand of ketchup and mustard.
- In July 2013, Whataburger introduced the Avocado Bacon Burger. "A 100% pure beef patty with crispy bacon, fresh avocado, onions, tomatoes, American cheese and creamy pepper sauce piled up on Texas Toast."
What-A-Burger and similar stores
Whataburger is sometimes confused with the What-A-Burger (note hyphens) chain of family-operated restaurants in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The first What-A-Burger store opened in 1950 by entrepreneur Jack Branch near Newport News, Virginia at Newport News Circle (intersection of Jefferson Avenue and U. S. Route 258) in the former Warwick County. Branch's first location predated the first Texas Whataburger restaurant slightly; the move took place after a modernization project involving the traffic circle. What-A-Burger and Whataburger were unaware of each other's existence several states apart until around 1970, when there was some correspondence. However, no legal actions took place until 2002-2003, when the two companies sued each other over the alleged trademark infringement. The Court of Appeals, in 2004, eventually decided the Texas Whataburger had a legitimate trademark; but the Virginia chain did not harm the much larger Texas-based chain in any way, nor did they cause any reasonable public confusion. The court said "There is no evidence — nor can we imagine any — that consumers are currently likely to be confused about whether the burgers served by Virginia W-A-B come from Texas or Virginia."
A second restaurant chain based in North Carolina, named What-A-Burger Drive-In, owned by Eb and Michael Bost, was not a party to the lawsuit, but under case law procedures, would also retain their name. It visibly numbered their stores starting from #1 in Kannapolis, North Carolina to #15 in Concord, North Carolina, of which six remain in operation as of March 2009[update].
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In popular culture
- Former WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin mentions Whataburger in his "WHAT?" gimmick on WWE Raw and WWE Smackdown for the venues in the Southern United States. He would lead with, "I went to Whataburger for lunch today!"; the crowd would respond with "What???", as Austin listed off items off the menu, including Whataburger with cheese, small fries, a large Diet Coke, and a large coffee.
- In David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, members of Enfield Tennis Academy participate in the WhataBurger Southwest Junior Invitational, a fictional tennis tournament sponsored by the company.
- The animated sitcom series King of the Hill, which is set in Texas, US, makes references to Whataburger. Early episodes refer to the company directly, such as the episode "Aisle 8A", in which Peggy says, "Come on, Bobby, let's go to Whataburger." Later episodes, such as "Lucky See, Monkey Do", change the name slightly and Bill flirts with a girl at the drive-thru of a Want-A-Burger outlet.
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- Sherman, Chris (March 10, 2005). "Memories on the menu". St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg, FL. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Whataburger #1 on 2609 Ayers Street has since been torn down and replaced by the Del Mar College Bookstore - "Gone But Not Forgotten in San Antonio". city-data.com forums. 2007-10-03.
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- "McGarrah/Jessee lands a whopper: Whataburger". Austin Business Journal. May 2, 2003. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
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- Welch, Creighton (2008-11-22). "Whataburger to move headquarters to San Antonio". MySanAntonio.com. San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- "Whataburger buys San Antonio office building for new headquarters". San Antonio Business Journal. March 30, 2009.
- Hall, Nicholas H. (2011-01-11). "A Whataburger Taquito with Chorizo". Houston Press. Village Voice Media Holdings.
- Whataburger (2009-12-22). "99 Cent Taquito Returns: Whataburger offers a break on breakfast favorite through January 18" (Press release). United Business Media. PR Newswire.
- Whataburger (2011-07-11). "Patty Returns - Whataburger Brings Back Fan Favorite" (Press release). Whataburger. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Whataburger (2011-10-10). "New All-Time Favorites menu brings top limited-time sandwiches together". bizjournals.com (Press release). San Antonio, Texas: The Business Journals Digital Network. PR Newswire.
- Whataburger (2011-10-09). "Wall Photos". Facebook. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Cherry, Scott (2011-10-13). "Flavors of fall in full force on menus, at special events". Tulsa World. World Publishing Company. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- "Whataburger A1 Thick and Hearty Burger Support Group". Archived from the original on 2009-11-17.
- "Whataburger to retire A.1. Thick and Hearty Burger". caller.com. Corpus Christi Caller Times - The E.W. Scripps Co. 2009-11-09. Retrieved 24 May 2012.
- Ruggless, Ron (2012-07-02). "Whataburger redesigns menu, adds healthful items". Nation's Restaurant News.
- "WHAT-A-BURGER OF VIRGINIA v. WHATABURGER INC.". leagle.com. 2003-04-03.
- What-A-Burger v. Whataburger, 357 F.3d 441 (United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit. 2004).
- Seltzer, Debra Jane. "North Carolina drive-ins". RoadsideArchitecture.com. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Mason, Sharon (Mar/Apr 2009). "What-A-Place". Cabarrus Living. pp. 22–23.
- Austin, Steve; Ross, Jim (2003). The Stone Cold Truth. Pocket Books. pp. 241–242. ISBN 0-7434-7720-0.
- "Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace - Read an Excerpt". NPR Books. NPR. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- "Infinite Jest - Bookmarks". Bookdrum.com. Book Drum Ltd. Retrieved 2012-09-13. "Page 4. " the prestigious WhataBurger Southwest Junior Invitational ""
- "King of the Hill - Aisle 8A - Transcript". livedash.com. Retrieved 2012-09-13.
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