#TBT: Do you know these facts about Whataburger and its roots in Corpus Christi? (2024)

#TBT: Do you know these facts about Whataburger and its roots in Corpus Christi? (1)

You may know the menu items by heart, and long for honey butter chicken biscuits when in a sad, Whataburger-free part of the country. But do you know these facts about the Texas icon which started in Corpus Christi in 1950?

Harmon Dobson and family

Harmon Dobson was a36-year-old World War II veteran fromCushman, Arkansas, when hearrivedin Texas in 1949. He was looking to invest in a variety of businesses having already dabbled in oil well and rock quarry investments and buying and selling used cars. He had also just come off a stint working in the diamond industry in South America. One possible investment on his radar: a hamburger stand.

Once he launched his hamburger business in 1950, he married the former Grace Larsen in March 1955. The couple had known each other for years in Batesville,Arkansas; Grace rented a house from and lived next door to Harmon's brother, Coy.

Sadly,Dobson and franchisee and friend Johnny Sneed were killed in a private plane crash on April 11, 1967in La Porte. The two were returning from a trip to Beaumont to inspect possiblenew locations.

Grace Dobson and the couple's three children became owners of the company, with Grace serving as the chairwoman of the company's board for manyyears and fending off offers to buy the company following Harmon's death. In1994,oldest son Tom Dobson became the president and CEO of Whataburger. Grace Dobson died in September 2005 at 80 years old.

On June 14 Whataburger announced the companyhad sold majority interest to investment firmBDT Capital Partners out of Chicago, with the founding family maintaining minority interest.Tom Dobson, currently board chairman, will retire but keepa seaton the company's board of directors.

More:Whataburger's lawyer: Texan restaurant won't change; Chicago ownership deal details

The beginning

The first Whataburger opened on Aug. 8, 1950, in a 12-foot by 16-footportable buildingon Ayers Street near Baldwin Boulevard. Dobson wasn't actually in town the day it opened; his operating partner Paul Burton manned the portable building and cooked the burgers.

The first menu

The offerings were basic: hamburger, chips, cold drink. But what a burger.Greg Wooldridge, author of "Whataburger: The Tale of a Texas Icon," points out that the usual burger of the time was the slider, "the White Castle model": a small burger, about 2 ounces of beef, and they cost 5 to 10 cents a piece. Dobson wanted something bigger: aquarter-pound of fresh — never frozen —beefon a five-inch bun. The five-inch bun was key. The pans had to be custom fabricated for Dobson because his supplier with Rainbo Bakery couldn't find anything larger than fourinches.

The price

Burton and Dobson had disagreed on the price of the burger: Burton wanted to stick with 25 cents. Dobson said the profit margin was too thin, 30 or 35 cents was better. The two parted amicably, although Burton continued to manage No. 1 before heading to San Antonio to operate Whataburgers until his death in 1970.

More:Whataburger has a new majority owner

The locations

Whataburger No. 1 did OK business the first day. As word got out, crowds came. Dobson began scouting locations for expansion. Whataburger No. 2 opened at Port and Baldwin in June 1951. The first restaurant outside of Corpus Christi popped up in Kingsville in 1952. And in 1953 the first Whataburger franchise opened in Alice, operated by Joe Andrews.

The expansion continued apace. The first location outside of Texas opened in 1959: Whataburger No. 21 in Pensacola, Florida. The first iconic A-frame, orange-and-white stripedWhataburger went up in Odessa in 1961. Adding some international flair, the first Whataburger in Mexico opened in 1992.

#TBT: Do you know these facts about Whataburger and its roots in Corpus Christi? (3)

If you've been in Corpus Christi long enough, you may remember some unique Whataburgers around town. In the late 1960s the Whataburger warehouse was built next to the Port and Baldwin location.

In the 1970s there was Whataburger Jr. No, not the kid's size burger that's on the menu now. This was a research and development restaurant at 509 Gordon Street. It was the testing ground for not only new menu items — onion rings, desserts and the Whatacatch all were consumer-tested here — but also procedures for preparing the food, from wrapping the burgers to cutting the onions.

More:The Onion mocked Whataburger fans; These are the best social media comebacks

In 1991 the Whataburger Community Restaurant at Alameda and Texan Trail opened. Here the company experimentedwith menu optionsincluding homemade soups, salads, baked potatoes and desserts. They even tested touch-screen ordering at this location (I remember trying these touch screensout when I was a kid.)

But the one out-of-towners always marvel at is the Whataburger by the Bay. The company's two-story, 6000-square-foot flagship restaurant opened on Shoreline Boulevard in 1999. You can even sit next to Harmon Dobson -- a bronze statue of the founder sits on a bench just inside the entrance.

The menu additions

You may have been as surprised as I was that the original menu didn't include french fries. French fries and hot fried pies weren't added until more than a decade later, in 1962. Onion rings debuted in 1978, along with jalapenos as an add-on for your burger.

In 1979 Whataburger began serving breakfast: the big sellers were the scrambled egg-and-sausage taquitos and Breakfast on a Buns (BOBs to the connoisseurs). The Lenten favorite fish sandwich, the Whatacatch, also appeared that year. And can you believe Whataburger didn't start selling chicken items until 1988?

#TBT: Do you know these facts about Whataburger and its roots in Corpus Christi? (4)

But probably one of the most popular menu items that is no longer available is the nickel coffee. The nickel coffee mug promotion began in 1983; customers purchased a special 99-cent mug and got refills for 5 cents.The promotion was supposed to last a year but continued until 1997. The price was raised to 25 cents in 1993. It was one of the most popular promotions the company ever offered.

The headquarters

Whataburgerexecutives worked from several locations in Corpus Christi. The company operated from the Bevly Building at 1224 S. Staples Street for a number of years. The Bevly Building along with the former Hacienda Records building next door werepurchased by the Ed Rachal Foundationand demolished in February 2019.

In 1970the company, with Grace Dobson as chairman of the board and 19-year-old Tom Dobson as a board member, movedinto a new 6,800-square-foot office at 3104 SouthAlameda Streetdubbed the Dobson Building. But they outgrew this spot quickly. In 1976,the company purchasedParkdale OfficeTower near the the intersection of South Staples Street and Everhart Road and it became the new Whataburger headquarters.The Dobson Building is now owned by Palmer Drug Abuse Program.

More:The Whataburger YETI tumbler to match your James Avery charm

But 2008 is the year Whataburger broke Corpus Christi's heart. The company announced that year they would be moving the headquarters to San Antonio. By the end of the summer 2009 the move was completeand the headquarters is now at300 Concord Plaza Drivein San Antonio, at the intersection of Jones Maltsberger Road and U.S. Highway 281.

And not to be petty (I'm lying, I'm about to be petty), Dobson had visited San Antonio in 1950 when scouting locations for the first Whataburger stand. He recorded in his journal at the time, "Left Midland today with Paul for San Antonio and eventual Whataburger drive-in. Stayed tonite in S.A. [sic]. Don't like looks too much." So take that, San Antonio.

Allison Ehrlich writes about things to do in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Help support local journalism with a subscription to the Caller-Times.

#TBT: Do you know these facts about Whataburger and its roots in Corpus Christi? (2024)
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