Hot on the heels of those YouTubers who ate at every Margaritaville in the United States and Canada, Ben Rowan, a man who recently moved to Texas from New York (after a stop in California), decided to try to understand what it means to be Texan by eating at San Antonio-based burger chain Whataburger for an entire week—that's 21 meals in a row. He explains in a new piece in Texas Monthly: "When I first arrived in Texas, I didn't get the fawning over the fast-food chain. I tried to understand by eating 21 straight meals there."
Calling his week-long Whataburger journey a "scientific and spiritual inquiry," he documents his experience, which seemed to consist of mostly mediocre meals and then a revelation near the end of the week that Texans' love of Whataburger is less about the food (or, really, not at all about the food) and more about the memories people make while eating there. He writes:
I still don't get the draw of Whataburger, however, until late in the week, when I realize I've mistakenly focused on the food and not the Idea of the Food. Throughout my adventure, I invited colleagues to dine with me, but most refused, which I took as a tacit admission of distaste for the chain. Then, one day, I ask one of the bigger Whataburger partisans in our office, who declines my invitation but, in doing so, gives me a breakthrough.
She says she doesn't like Whataburger, she likes her Whataburger, and she implores me to try a few to make sure I'm not just eating at one of the bad ones. Though I've already eaten at three different locations, my coworker's admonishment confuses me: the appeal of most fast food is that it tastes the same everywhere. But later that day, when I'm at my Whataburger—one near my home—eating with colleagues, I finally get it. The chain's appeal is not the comfort of conformity but precisely the opposite. Its chief currency is circumstance: the friends you ate it with, the contours of the night that led you there.
He then goes on to recount a conversation he has with Ashley Bean Thornton, "self-described superfan from Waco who made news recently for eating at Whataburger nearly every day for ten years." Thornton's love for Whataburger is grounded in the experiences she has had at the restaurant, the friends she has made there, the familiar comfort of her favorite table.
Superfan Thornton and new-Texan Rowan both adopt romantic and nostalgic views of the restaurant, which might have made since pre-2019 when the restaurant was still family owned. I mean, fine, go eat a burger there, go laugh with your friends, but, to me, these nostalgic good vibes for a rapidly-expanding corporate burger behemoth feel misplaced.
In 2019, the Whataburger family sold its majority ownership to BDT Capital Partners, based out of Chicago. And in 2023 the company hired Debbie Stroud as its new Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. QSR Magazine describes Stroud as a "seasoned executive with more than 30 years of leadership experience in the restaurant and retail industry," including five years at Starbucks as Senior Vice President of U.S. Retail Operations and 27 years in financial and operational roles at McDonald's.
Whataburger currently boasts annual sales of more than $3 billion and operate 950 restaurants across 14 states.