The Ultimate Texas Brand Bracket is drawing to its close. From our initial array of 64 beloved restaurants, stores, products, and none-of-the-above wild cards, four rounds of intense voting have winnowed down the field to our Final Four. The last restaurant standing? Whataburger. The lone surviving store? H-E-B. The most beloved product? Blue Bell ice cream. And rounding out the lineup to rep the wild cards, Southwest Airlines.
None of these brands had an easy path to victory, and we must now take a moment to remember those that, despite close challenges, were vanquished along the way. Austin City Limits, the tournament’s last Cinderella story, which fell to Schlitterbahn by just sixteen votes. Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q, whose second-round rally came too late to swing the results. Taco Cabana, struck down in round one by the upstart Torchy’s, which was then thrown into the meat grinder with a matchup against Whataburger. Big Red and Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs, two great tastes that go much better together than they do in opposition, which were cruelly pitted against one another in the first round. Thomas J. Henry and Chuck E. Cheese, both eliminated on the bracket’s first day, ruling out the possibility of a head-to-head matchup for middle-initial supremacy. We’re proud of each of the brands that entered the bracket and attempted to win the hearts and minds of Texans, and of those who were left off the list as well. Great job, brands! You’re all winners in our book.
This Was Inevitable: Whataburger Takes On H-E-B
Now on to the actual winners. In hindsight, it seems as if the left side of the bracket was always destined to culminate in a showdown between number one seeds H-E-B and Whataburger. Both brands have shrugged off all challengers in each round, and by incredible margins to boot. Even brands that previously dominated the competition, such as Dairy Queen and Buc-ee’s, got steamrolled by these two behemoths in the Elite Eight.
But now H-E-B and Whataburger must meet in battle. A bracket like this goes by pure Thunderdome rules: two brands enter; one leaves. The arguments for and against each are clear. Whataburger, although founded in Corpus Christi and headquartered in Texas, with the vast majority of its restaurants in the Lone Star State, is nonetheless owned by a parent company in Chicago. H-E-B, while family-owned and based in San Antonio, primarily serves South Texas, Austin, and Houston, meaning that vast swaths of the state have little connection to the supermarket chain—but the folks in those places do eat Whataburger.
H-E-B has won its matchups by enormous margins thus far; in the eyes of our readers, it seems that when compared to the beloved supermarket chain, even Texas originals like Academy Sports + Outdoors, Buc-ee’s, Cavender’s, and Whole Earth Provision might as well come from New York City. (“New York City?!”) Whataburger, too, has barely broken a sweat—not against well-loved Dallas lunch spot El Fenix, nor against Torchy’s or Shipley Do-Nuts or even small-town icon Dairy Queen. But the fast food empire’s margins of victory have mostly been around fifty percentage points, compared to H-E-B’s gaudy eighty- and ninety-point blowouts. Will that matter when the two face off? We’ll find out over the weekend.
All Is Forgiven: Blue Bell Meets Southwest Airlines
For better or for worse, Texans appear to have fully forgiven Blue Bell for its role in spreading deadly listeria to seniors in 2015. In the Elite Eight, the Brenham ice cream brand took on top-seeded Dr Pepper, looked that bubbly physician square in the eye, and walked away the victor, claiming the right to represent the products division in the Final Four by a margin of nearly nine hundred votes.
The theme of forgiveness extends to the wild cards division, too. Here, the last two brands standing, Schlitterbahn and Southwest Airlines, had both suffered reputational damage in recent years—Schlitterbahn for a tragic waterslide death at its now-closed Kansas City location and Southwest for stranding thousands of passengers during last December’s nationwide winter storm. Schlitterbahn became the second amusement park the airline bounced from the bracket, after Southwest eliminated Six Flags in the Sweet Sixteen.
Now Blue Bell and Southwest are going head-to-head for the right to meet either H-E-B or Whataburger in the final. Normally we’d be skeptical of an airline’s chances against an ice cream brand that has thus far vanquished all challengers, but Southwest is no stranger to snuffing out brands that evoke memories of childhood joy. Can the airline do it one more time?