26
May
2022
|
09:49 AM
America/Chicago

Our History: The Whataburger Story

Since 1950, we've proudly served a bigger, better burger.

WE'VE STUCK TO WHAT GOT US HERE.

 

More than seven decades ago, an adventurous and determined entrepreneur named Harmon Dobson had a bold idea: to serve a burger so big that it took two hands to hold, and so good that after a single bite customers couldn't help but exclaim, “What a burger!” He named his humble burger stand, located on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, Texas, “Whataburger.”

Today, our founder's original vision still inspires everything we do. Each and every Whataburger® is still made to order—when it's ordered. We still use 100% pure, never-frozen beef and serve it on a big, toasted five-inch bun. We still greet our customers with a smile 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And while we now serve hot, fresh food at more than 890 Whataburgers across the country, that burger stand in Corpus Christi is never far from our hearts.

Harmon Dobson at Unit 1A MAN WITH A DREAM. 

 

The golden age of drive-ins and American automobiles was just getting started back on August 8, 1950, when Harmon Dobson opened Whataburger #1. This tiny burger stand offered something people had never seen: a burger that was so big, they had to hold its five-inch bun with two hands. It was an instant success, and Harmon began to expand the business to other markets. In 1955, Harmon married Grace Williamson and they became Whataburger's “First Couple.” Together, they raised three children: Hugh, Lynne and Tom. By the end of the decade, Harmon would open Whataburger #21 in Pensacola, Florida. It was the first Whataburger restaurant outside the state of Texas.

CHANGE, GROWTH - AND TRAGEDY. 

First A-frame

By 1960, Whataburger had 17 restaurants. A year later, the first of the familiar orange and white striped A-frames was built in Odessa, Texas. The menu grew as well, with French fries and hot pies being added in 1962. Tragedy struck the Whataburger family in 1967 when a plane crash took the life of Harmon Dobson. The Dobson family and their extended Whataburger family rallied around and supported Grace as she took over the business.

photo1970200 RESTAURANTS AND GROWING.

 

The ‘70s was a decade of Whataburger milestones. Under the leadership of Grace Dobson, the company thrived and grew. The number of locations doubled to more than 200 restaurants. The first drive-thru was installed in 1971. The Whataburger Jr.® was added to the menu, as were jalapeños and onion rings. And a new building design, which retained the spirit of the original A-frame, was unveiled. This is the era in which country music legend Mel Tillis started appearing in television commercials for the company, a role that would continue through the ‘80s.

BIGGER MENU, LONGER HOURS.photo1980

 

At the end of 1980, Whataburger opened its 300th restaurant. Two years later, three Corpus Christi locations began operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, much to the delight of hungry patrons. New menu additions soon followed, including the Breakfast On A Bun®, Whatachick'n®—and the now-famous breakfast Taquitos. The beloved Nickel Mug—now a classic piece of Americana—debuted as a promotion which was supposed to last 1-year but ended up running for 14. And by the end of 1989, Whataburger was serving hot and fresh food at 440 different locations.

photo1990A TORCH IS PASSED. 

 

Whataburger saw a change of leadership for the first time since the 1990s as Tom Dobson, Harmon's son, took over as President and CEO. A host of new menu items was unveiled, including the Whatameal®, the A.1.® Thick & Hearty Burger®, cookies, biscuits, chicken strips and more. The company also passed the 500-store threshold, making it the nation's eighth-largest hamburger chain. The very first WhataGames, the company's biennial burger Olympic competition for Team Members, was held. And on May 6, 1999, Whataburger by the Bay opened in Corpus Christi as a tribute to Whataburger's upcoming 50th anniversary. Boasting 6,000 square feet, stunning water views and a life-size bronze likeness of Harmon Dobson, this flagship restaurant is a fitting tribute to an amazing man.

CELEBRATING 50 YEARS STRONG. photo2000

 

On August 8, 2000, Whataburger proudly celebrated its 50th anniversary with 575 restaurants in operation and millions of fans all over the country. In 2001, the 77th Texas Legislature officially recognized what Texans had known for more than 50 years: Whataburger is a designated a ‘Texas Treasure.' New specialty items included the Whataburger Patty Melt and the Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich. Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks celebrated a ground-breaking ceremony with Grace throwing out the first pitch. Sadly, in 2005, Whataburger Family Members mourned the loss of “Lady Grace” as she was called by many. Whataburger moved its Home Office to San Antonio from Corpus Christi in 2009.

photo2010WHATABURGER GOES ONLINE.

 

By the company's seventh decade, Whataburger had grown from a single burger stand in Corpus Christi to an 800-restaurant chain that spanned every state from Arizona to Florida. The All-Time Favorites menu, featuring four of the most loved specialty sandwiches from over the years, made its debut and was greeted enthusiastically by Whataburger fans. Whataburger’s Facebook page reached 1 million fans in 2013, just over a year after its launch. Whataburger Fancy Ketchup, Spicy Ketchup and Original Mustard became available at H-E-B stores and online at Whatastore in 2013. Online ordering through Whataburger’s app and website debuted in 2019. BDT Capital Partners acquired a majority interest in Whataburger and Ed Nelson was promoted to President in 2019.

photo2020WHATABURGER IS ON A ROLL.

 

In 2020, Whataburger’s 70th anniversary year, curbside pickup and delivery options launched, the company’s first food truck was unveiled, and our first new large-unit prototype opened. The next year, we awarded more than $90 million in bonuses to our Family Members (what we call our employees) in thanks for their extraordinary service during the pandemic. We also elevated General Managers in our more than 850 restaurants to Operating partners, serving as the face of Whataburger in their communities, connecting and creating relationships with local schools, businesses, and nonprofits. In our eighth decade, we entered new markets including Kansas City, Nashville, and Colorado Springs, expanding our restaurant footprint to 14 states.

Despite all these changes, we're still sticking to what got us here. Serving it hot and fresh, 24/7. Treating our customers right. Being proud of everything we do. And never forgetting where we started. Whataburger is more than a burger chain. It is a place that feels like home to more than 50,000 employees, called Family Members, and millions of customers. It’s a brand built on pride, care, and love. It’s a place people count on in their communities.