HomeIndustryD2CD2C F&B Startups: Story of Whataburger to inspire you today

D2C F&B Startups: Story of Whataburger to inspire you today

If one has looked closely into the different trends of the constantly growing and modern world, it would be quite easy for that person to recognize that the public has started to shift from fine dining restaurants to fast food restaurants. The trend has been recognized by a lot of entities lately but one of the first to recognize this trend was Whataburger. Here’s the story of Whataburger of how it became what it is currently.

Whataburger is a network of fast-food restaurants in the United States, with headquarters and main locations in San Antonio, Texas, that serves primarily hamburgers. Established in 1950 with a single restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas, the chain was co-founded by Dobson and Burton. Until 2019, the Dobson family owned and operated the chain.

Since then, a private equity firm has taken over management, with the Dobsons retaining minority ownership. Texas alone has around 670 retail outlets, with another 150 in neighbouring states including New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. Another 126 of these outlets are franchises.

For a long time, Whataburger’s signature A-framed, orange-and-white-striped roofed restaurants were instantly recognisable everywhere they were located ( a maroon stripe is added in College Station). In 1961, the 24th Whataburger opened in Odessa, Texas, and it was the first to be constructed in the distinctive A-frame style.

Having given you a general idea about the legacy of Whataburger, let us give you a complete timeline of how Whataburger is what it is now:



It was over seven decades ago that an enterprising and fearless businessman named Harmon Dobson had the audacious notion to provide a burger so large that it required two hands to hold, and so delicious that, with just one mouthful, consumers would exclaim, “What a burger!” Whataburger was the moniker he gave to his small burger restaurant on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The initial goal of their founder is still the driving force behind everything they do now. Whataburgers® are still cooked fresh when requested. They still use a five-inch toasted baguette with beef that has never been frozen. A friendly face is still there for our consumers around the clock, every day of the week. Even though there are now more than 890 Whataburgers in the United States serving hot, fresh meals, the original stand in Corpus Christi will always hold a special place in their memories.


Whataburger #1 was inaugurated by Harmon Dobson on August 8, 1950, at the dawn of the golden age of drive-ins and American vehicles. Unique to this tiny burger joint was a burger with a bun so large that it required two hands to eat. As a result of the company’s immediate success, Harmon ventured into other markets. Harmon and Grace Williamson, who he married in 1955, are known as Whataburger’s “First Couple.” They had three kids: Hugh, Lynne, and Tom, who they brought up as a unit. Harmon planned to open Whataburger #21, located in Pensacola, Florida, before the turn of the century. The restaurant was the first Whataburger location outside of Texas.


In 1960, there were already 17 Whataburger locations. Odessa, Texas, was the site of the first construction of the iconic orange and white striped A-frames the following year. In 1962, French fries and hot pies were added, further expanding the menu. In 1967, the Whataburger family lost patriarch Harmon Dobson in a tragic plane crash. When Grace Dobson was ready to take over the family business, the entire Whataburger clan came together to back her.


The 1970s were a pivotal decade for Whataburger. The business flourished and expanded throughout Grace Dobson’s tenure as its leader. Over 200 new restaurants were added, more than doubling the previous total. In 1971, the first drive-through window was built. Jalapeos and onion rings joined the Whataburger Jr.® as new menu additions. And a brand new design for the structure was introduced, which paid homage to the classic A-frame. In this era, the company began using country music legend Mel Tillis in its television ads, a role he would play all the way into the ’80s.


The year 1980 closed with the opening of Whataburger’s 300th location. As a result, three restaurants in Corpus Christi are now open around the clock, seven days a week, much to the joy of the city’s ravenous population. The Breakfast On A Bun®, Whatachick’n®, and the now-iconic breakfast Taquitos joined the lineup shortly thereafter. It all started as a campaign that was only expected to last a year, yet the iconic Nickel Mug has been a part of Americana for generations. By the end of 1989, Whataburger had 440 outlets dishing up delicious, freshly prepared meals.


Tom Dobson, Harmon’s son, took over as President and CEO of Whataburger, marking the company’s first shift in leadership since the 1990s. The Whatameal®, the A.1.® Thick & Hearty Burger®, cookies, biscuits, chicken strips, and more were just a few of the new items introduced to the menu. The company is now the ninth-largest hamburger chain in the United States, having surpassed the 500-store mark. This year was the inaugural WhataGames, the company’s semi-annual burger Olympics for Team Members. Whataburger’s 50th anniversary was celebrated with the opening of Whataburger by the Bay in Corpus Christi on May 6, 1999. This flagship eatery is a worthy monument to an incredible man, with 6,000 square feet, breathtaking water vistas, and a life-size bronze representation of Harmon Dobson.


With 575 locations and millions of devoted customers, Whataburger celebrated its golden anniversary on August 8, 2000. What Texans had known for over 50 years, Whataburger was formally acknowledged as a “Texas Treasure” in 2001 by the 77th Texas Legislature. The Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich and the Whataburger Patty Melt were recently introduced as two of the restaurant’s new speciality sandwiches. Grace threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Whataburger Field, the future home of the Corpus Christi Hooks. Whataburger Family Members were saddened at the passing of “Lady Grace” in 2005. In 2009, the Whataburger headquarters relocated from Corpus Christi to San Antonio.


After starting off as a single burger stand in Corpus Christi, Whataburger expanded to include 800 locations in states ranging from Arizona to Florida throughout the course of its first seven decades in business. Fans of Whataburger were thrilled with the introduction of the All-Time Favorites menu, which features four of the chain’s most popular speciality sandwiches from the past. In 2013, a little more than a year after its establishment, the Whataburger Facebook page surpassed 1 million fans. In 2013, H-E-B locations and the Whatastore website began stocking Whataburger’s Fancy Ketchup, Spicy Ketchup, and Original Mustard. In 2019, Whataburger introduced online ordering via their website and mobile app. In 2019, BDT Capital Partners bought a controlling stake in Whataburger, and Ed Nelson became the company’s new president.


In 2020, Whataburger celebrated its 70th anniversary by unveiling its first food truck, opening a prototype for a new, larger location, and offering curbside pickup and delivery. In recognition of their heroic efforts during the epidemic, the next year we sent out incentives totalling over $90 million to our Family Members. In addition, we promoted the General Managers of our more than 850 restaurants to the role of Operating Partner, making them the public face of Whataburger in their areas and empowering them to forge partnerships with local organisations. Our restaurant chain is now present in 14 different states after we expanded into new markets in our eighth decade, including Kansas City, Nashville, and Colorado Springs.

However, we will continue to rely on the strategies that have brought us this far. Hot and ready to go, all the time. Making sure our consumers are treated fairly. taking pride in our work. And always remember our roots. The Whataburger brand goes beyond the fast-food hamburger industry. More than 50,000 employees (also known as “Family Members”) and millions of consumers consider it their second home. It’s a label that’s been carefully and lovingly crafted. A community institution that serves as a pillar of trust in the lives of its residents.

Stay tuned for more exciting stories. We have many more interesting stories in store for you.

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