On August 8, 1950, company founder Harmon Dobson opened his first Whataburger restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas. The small, wooden kiosk sold the enormous burgers for 25 cents each, and before the first week was out, lines stretched down the street.
In 1952, Joe Andrews, Sr. brought his family to the newly opened Whataburger in Kingsville, Texas. After one bite, he knew Whataburger was something he wanted to be a part of. Joe was awarded the first franchise location shortly after (the fifth Whataburger restaurant) which opened in Alice, Texas in 1953. Eventually, in 1959, Harmon Dobson expanded outside of Texas with the twenty-first Whataburger restaurant opening in Pensacola, Florida.
1960s and 70s
By 1960, there were over 17 Whataburger locations in Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. The familiar orange- and white-striped Whataburger A-frame started as a back-of-the-napkin sketch for Harmon Dobson. That sketch led to the opening of the very first A-frame Whataburger at the twenty-fourth Whataburger location in Odessa, Texas in 1961. In 1962, the menu grew with the addition of hot fried pies and French fries.
Whataburger had twenty-four restaurants by 1963, including the first restaurant in Arizona. By 1965, it was estimated that Whataburger sold 15,000 burgers a day in the Texas Coastal Bend area alone. Inside dining rooms were added to the A-frames in 1966 and in 1967, the official company logo, the familiar "Flying W," was commissioned.
In 1967, an airplane crash took the life of company founder Harmon Dobson. Dobson's wife, Grace, took control of the business. By the end of the decade, there would be 60 Whataburgers completely finished and six more under construction. Whataburger doubled its number of restaurants from 1971 to 1979. The first drive-through was installed in 1971, and in 1972 the company opened its 100th restaurant. Soon after, Whataburger was ranked in the top 25 out of 900+ fast-food restaurants. In 1977, the company had 205 restaurants in 12 states with 34 franchisees.
1980s and 90s
In 1980, the 187th Whataburger store, located in Fort Worth, Texas, set a single-day sales record of $4,816.19. By the end of 1980, the company would open its 300th location. In 1982, three Corpus Christi locations began 24/7 operation. New menu additions soon followed, including the Breakfast on a Bun, Whatachick'n, and breakfast Taquitos. As Whataburger turned 35 in 1985, it noted that in its Texas Coastal Bend stores alone, it served 10,434,840 customers per year. The company reached the 400 store mark in 1987 and reached 440 by 1989.
As the number of stores jumped to 475 in the early 1990s, significant menu items including Whatameals, cookies, biscuits, chicken strips were added. By mid-decade, the company delivered its first $1 million net Saturday and handed over the reins of President/CEO to Tom Dobson, Harmon's son. Tom oversaw expansion to over 500 units and beyond, making Whataburger the country's 8th-largest hamburger chain.
"Whataburger A Texas Treasure" (sign on a Whataburger restaurant in Texas, 2003) On May 6, 1999, the company's flagship "Whataburger by the Bay" opened on Shoreline Drive in Corpus Christi, Texas. A tribute to founder Harmon Dobson, this flagship store boasts 6,000 square feet, water views, and a life-size bronze statue of Mr. Dobson near the entrance at the bay side.
On August 8, 2000, Whataburger celebrated its 50th anniversary with 575 units in operation. Today, there are more than 700 locations in 11 states with sales of $1 billion annually.