Whatastory

How a modest Corpus Christi burger stand became a Texas icon.
Whatastory
Illustrations by Bruce Hutchison

On August 8, 1950, the very first Whataburger was served at a portable stand on Ayers Street, in Corpus Christi. Whoever it was that plunked down 25 cents and lifted that inaugural quarter-pounder to his lips couldn’t have known how popular the sandwich would become: The unusually large burger—its bun was an unprecedented five inches wide—caught on so quickly that after just four days in business, the stand’s owner, Harmon Dobson, was overwhelmed. “Big Day—$141.80,” he wrote in his journal. “Christ What a workhouse—551 hamburgers.” Today about 400,000 Whataburgers are served daily in some 235 Texas cities, and the chain’s orange-and-white A-frame restaurants are impossible to miss.

Whataburger is still based here—after decades in Corpus Christi, its headquarters is being relocated to San Antonio this summer—and still run by the Dobson family. And though you can now buy a Whataburger in nine other states, eating one remains a deeply Texan experience. Who doesn’t remember the first time he took a number at the counter and waited for his never-frozen, four-pickle, three-tomato, paper-wrapped Whataburger—customized with grilled onions or jalapeños? Who hasn’t driven a Yankee to the nearest “Flying W” to prove the merits of a mustard-only burger? Or treated her kid to a Justaburger after a Little League victory? A Whataburger is by no means fancy or gourmet. Nor is it the best burger in Texas. But it has a way of hitting the spot exactly when it matters.

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