Family-owned, forward-thinking, and all about taking care of its guests – Whataburger is built on a proud history
You may love everything Whataburger, but do you know the story behind the legendary restaurant? If you call yourself a true fan, here are the things you should know about Whataburger’s history.
Small stand, big burger
In the golden age of drive-ins and American automobiles, a man named Harmon Dobson had a vision: a five-inch burger that would be so big that when people picked it up to take a bite, they couldn’t help but say “What a burger!” With no restaurant experience, Harmon opened the original Whataburger August 8, 1950, on Ayers Street in Corpus Christi, Texas.
The small building had a humble outside, and business was slow at first ($191 for the first three days), but Harmon was offering something no one else was (other burgers at the time were only four inches), and word got around. On the fourth day, Harmon, an avid diarist, penned these words: “Big day—$141.80—Christ—What a workhorse. 551 burgers.”
True Love and Tragedy
In 1955, Harmon married Grace Williamson and the pair began a love affair that grew stronger each year. Together, they raised a family and oversaw the expansion of the business. Harmon was a natural promoter and businessman, known for tossing promotional flyers from his plane, and he was always on the lookout for new markets. Then, in 1967, while traveling for business, his plane went down.
“Lady Grace,” as she was known, was at home with her three children when word came in that Dobson’s plane had crashed. As the family rallied around Grace and the children, investors began knocking on the door. “We want to buy the business,” they told Grace. “You can’t run a business and raise a family.”
Grace knew better. As calls came in with aggressive offers to buy, Grace held strong, maintaining that she would keep running the business, since it was her husband’s wish for it to stay in the family.
In 1961, as Whataburger grew to more than 17 locations, the first iconic orange-and-white striped A-Frame was opened in Odessa, Texas. The reason for the distinctive colored roofs? Harmon was a pilot and wanted them to be seen from the sky.
Leading with Grace
Under Grace’s leadership, the business continued to grow. The first drive thru was installed in 1971. At the end of 1980, Whataburger opened its 300th restaurant. By 1982, three locations began operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week much to the delight of hungry fans. Some now-classic menu items debuted in the ‘80s, like the Taquito, Breakfast on a Bun and Whatachick’n.
The Torch is Passed
Whataburger saw its first change of leadership since the 1960s when Tom Dobson, Harmon’s son, took over the company as president and CEO in 1993. In 1996, the company launched their inaugural Family Convention, which continues to take place on a biennial basis. is The highlight of the event is the finals of WhataGames, an intense six-month long competition where every single restaurant competes to show their knowledge of company history and commitment to company values.
Official Texas Treasure
The 77th Texas Legislature designated Whataburger an official Texas Treasure in 2001, the same year the beloved Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich debuted. In 2005, Whataburger’s “first lady” Grace Dobson passed away, and the Whataburger Family mourned the loss of Lady Grace. Her commitment to taking care of the Whataburger Family and her legacy of giving back to the community remain central to the company today.
Still Family Owned and Operated
Now in its sixth decade as a family-owned company, Whataburger continues to grow – just not too big. The chain has more than 800 restaurants across 10 states, employing more than 40,000 Family Members. But with each day and each order, the inspiration of Harmon and Grace Dobson centers the business. Siblings Tom, Lynne and Hugh Dobson remain committed to their parents' legacy of serving guests with pride, care and love.