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The Dobson Family Sells Controlling Stake in Whataburger

Whatastory. Now, I’m a born-and-bred Texan. I may live in New York City (for now), so the Empire State may have my taxes — but the Lone Star State has my heart. Always has, always will. Despite the troubling past and problematic heroes (and if you have the stamina to stand up to Republicans occasionally), Texas can be a fantastic, magical and oh-so affordable place to call home. So pardon me swimming through some backstory here, while I work up to the big reveal.

To quote the great Lawerence Wright:

[…] Texans see themselves as a distillation of the best qualities of America: friendly, confident, hardworking, patriotic, neurosis-free. Outsiders see us as the nation’s id, a place where rambunctious and disavowed impulses run wild. Texans, it is thought, mindlessly celebrate individualism, and view government as a kind of kryptonite that weakens the entrepreneurial muscles. We’re reputed to be braggarts; careless with money and our personal lives; a little gullible, but dangerous if crossed; insecure, but obsessed with power and prestige.

Power and prestige indeed — Fast-food restaurateurs frequently come to Texas to wade in the tepid waters of the nation’s id if you will. Open a shop in Texas, and it does well — chances are, you will do well just about anywhere.

Texas has it all. From Five Guys to Fuzzy’s. We have Del Tacos (god knows why), food trucks, and oh so many Chipotle’s. Texas has In-n-Out’s and then there’s the Braums, Kincaids and Juicy’s. Not to mention a constant fierce rivalry between Shake Shack and our hero, Whataburger. And boy-howdy, lemme tell ya about the Jalapeño Tree and Bernie. The highway culture in Texas is a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of varying opinions on fast food. From Uvalde to Amarillo, every Texan has a contrarian favorite. But every true Texan can probably agree, Whataburger is a prized possession. Seriously. Couples may get married at McDonald’s locations in Hong Kong, but you can be damn sure Texans get married at Whataburger:

Whataburger fans have had Whataburgers sent to them out-of-state via Federal Express, twenty-four couples were married at a Whataburger restaurant on Valentine’s Day in 1996, and in 1999 the STS-93 crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia requested Whataburger cookies on board for their July mission. The Seventy-seventh Texas Legislature officially recognized what customers have known for more than 50 years: Whataburger is a state treasure. On April 9, 2001, Rep. Jaime Capelo, (D-Corpus Christi), announced his resolution to recognize the Texas-based hamburger chain as a Texas Treasure.

Whataburger has been in business for nearly 69 years now since the first location opened up in Corpus Christie (nice)! But there’s big news on the horizon for every Whataburger enthusiast — our Texan treasure, is now poised for growth now that the Dobson family has handed over the keys to Byron Trott:

The merchant bank [BDT Capital Partners] that’s taking over the majority stake in Whataburger was founded by one of Warren Buffett’s favorite investors.

The founding Dobson family will keep a minority position on the board, while Whataburger’s Chief Financial Officer Ed Nelson will become president of the orange-and-white burger chain. The company’s headquarters will remain in San Antonio.

Not much is known about BDT Capital Partners. Despite dealing with billions of dollars, the company doesn’t have a website and rarely makes headlines.

However, the company continues to grow under its founder, Byron Trott, who has been publicly praised by Warren Buffett in the past.

Sign me the hell up. This is fantastic news for Whataburger. They’ve outgrown their spurs, many times over, and I have confidence that Trott and BDT Capital will take good care of Whataburger. I would love to see a Whataburger location open up in Brooklyn or Manhattan in my lifetime. That would be just so glorious.

If you want to learn more about the history of Whatburger, The Texas State Historical Association has some incredible photographs (that couldn’t be shared here) and a lovely summary Whataburger’s history written by an excellent history teacher — Cindy Jones, of Woodrow Wilson Junior High in Dayton, Texas. I only know this because the THSA publishes a list of their junior historians here, which is super cool 😎