Whataburger is a hamburger fast food chain which operates 735 stores (as of this moment) that are spread across Texas and other parts of the southern United States. You may have recognized the restaurant by its A-frame orange-and-white roof if you’ve ever been to the South.
Its founders Harmon Dobson and Paul Burton opened their first restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas in August 1950. Its location was good because the first Whataburger restaurant was built across a local college. Dobson and Burton wanted to upsize their burgers, so they concentrated on the size of the buns. Their 5 inch buns were baked and supplied by the local bakery Rainbo, which customized the size of their baking pans for that purpose. Whataburger’s 25-cent enormous burgers were an instant hit.
The restaurant’s goal was simple: 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 1951, Dobson and Burton severed their partnership after arguments about the pricing of the burgers. This ended with Dobson controlling the restaurant, while Burton agreed to be the franchise operator of the chains. Months later, the price of the burgers were upped by about 10 cents. In 1953, Whataburger opened to franchising. Dobson would call each opening of a new restaurant as “Whataburger #4” or 5, or 17, or 24, etc.
The steady growth of Whataburger, and its famous “flying W” logo
By the 1960s the company grew, now with 17 stores under its belt. In 1962, the menu expanded with the addition of French fries and hot pies. The now-famous A-framed orange-and-white roofs of the restaurants were introduced in 1961 with the opening of “Whataburger #24” in Odessa, Texas. Further displaying Dobson’s love for flying, he also had the restaurant’s “flying W” commissioned.
Unfortunately, it was also flying that claimed Dobson’s life; in 1967, he and his business associate perished in an airplane crash. By the time of his death, Whataburger was operating over 40 restaurants in four southern states. His widow Grace took over, and two years later she became chairman of the board. By the end of the decade, there were over 60 restaurants and more were to be opened soon.
To accommodate more customers, Whataburger began its first drive-through service in 1971, and the following year opened its 100th restaurant. The quality of food and service earned the burger chain as one of the top 25 restaurants in the United States.
Whataburger’s challenges, restructuring and restored success
During the 1980s, Whataburger opened its 187th store in Fort Worth, Texas to record-breaking heights in the company’s history. At the end of its opening day, it earned a total of $4,816.19. The company also started serving 24 hours a day with its three Corpus Christi stores. Towards the closing of the decade, Whataburger expanded when it opened its 300th store.
Harmon and Grace’s son Tom was elected unanimously as president and CEO of the company on December 15, 1993. Tom was facing a different challenge than what his father had as head of the company, which was experiencing falling sales for the last six years. Their stores were in dire need of repairs and modernization, and many customers believe that Whataburger lost its focus on their main product that catapulted the company into its initial success. Tom became aware of the problem and realized that it was time to resurrect the company. The company received a much-needed change in management, its marketing strategies took on new directions, facilities in its restaurants updated and improved, and most of all, Whataburger began to concentrate on serving the freshly-made burgers that made them successful.
After some restructuring, the company was now back on its feet. The company opened their 500th store, celebrating their reclaimed success. It was listed as the eighth largest hamburger chain in the country.
On August 8, 2000, the company celebrated its golden anniversary with the opening of 75 more stores. And it looks like the success continues to roll on for the Dobson family.
Whataburger’s diverse offering
If you haven’t been to Whataburger stores and wonder what its menu consists of, the restaurant chain serves, of course the “Whataburger,” their flagship product. The Whataburger comes in different sizes: the double meat (patty) and the triple meat. It also serves the “Whataburger Jr.”, the “Justaburger” (burger with mustard, onions and pickles only), “Whatacatch” (fish sandwich, and “Whatachick’n” (chicken strips and bite-size nuggets). Whataburger also has taquitos with cheese, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, hash browns, grilled cheese, French fries, salads, apple pies, cookies, a variety of beverages and many breakfast items.
With the diversity of food items in their menu, Whataburger has something for everyone but are still well known for its juicy burgers.