Whataburger, Texas' beloved burger chain, is undergoing a dramatic makeover.
The famed burgers and fries aren't going away. Nor is the orange-and-white color scheme. But goodbye to the trademark A-frame design.
The San Antonio-based chain just debuted its new look at a remodeled location at 7007 S. Zarzamora St. in South San Antonio. James Turcotte, Whataburger's senior VP of real estate, calls it a "merger of new and old."
"We have gone to great lengths and effort to try to maintain the linkage to our past, because we know, particularly in Texas, that people's grandparents have eaten there, their parents have eaten there, they're eating there," Turcotte says. "We don't take that loyalty lightly at all. We're going to great lengths to try to make sure that they feel like the tradition of Whataburger is still there and being maintained, and we're being good stewards of the brand."
Turcotte says the companywide design overhaul de-emphasizes Whataburger's familiar A-frame, adds glass to the front of the building, updates the décor, and refashions the kitchen. The interior exudes a modern yet retro feel, highlighted by orange and gray seating, and warm wood finishes.
What's been the reaction to the updated design?
"As in all things, some people seem to love it and some had some maybe less-favorable comments. But you know, that's just the internet, I guess," Turcotte says.
Two other San Antonio locations are undergoing makeovers. Over the next 10 years, all of Whataburger's existing restaurants will get the new treatment. The chain has more than 700 company-owned stores and nearly 130 franchised stores in 10 states.
The South San Antonio location was gutted and rebuilt — what Turcotte calls a "super remodel" — which some other locations will receive as well. The rest will get upgraded exteriors and kitchens. Some will also get upgraded dining rooms.
A prototype for a brand-new Whataburger store under construction in Bellmead, near Waco, is set to open in the fall. A rendering shows no A-frame. Instead, an A-frame architectural element pops up behind the chain’s "W" logo above the front entrance. Also, the exterior dramatically scales back the iconic orange-and-white color palette.
Turcotte says Whataburger has been shifting away from the A-frame format in recent years, in part because real estate developers and city planners balk at it. "It's a constant challenge to try to evolve but maintain the links to your past," he says.
The interior of the brand-new stores will be similar to the décor at the San Antonio store.
Moving forward, virtually all newly built stores will incorporate the prototype design, Turcotte says. They have 25 five new stores on tap for 2021.
Turcotte reassures that the makeovers won't include changes to the menu, aside from their usual limited-time menu items. "We know we're a burger company, and we're focused on burgers, fries, and drinks," he says.
There's one other big change: The company is expanding into the Kansas City and Tennessee markets and that means franchising restaurants for the first time in 20 years.
They continue to expand across the South including Texas. In 2019, Chicago-based investment firm BDT Capital Partners purchased a majority stake in the company.
"Even though most of our stores are here in Texas, we still feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for us to continue to grow in Texas markets," Turcotte says. "Texas is still one of the most dynamic growth states in the country, and we continue to see a lot of other brands come to Texas to try to take advantage of that."
"So in no way, shape, or form should anybody think that we’re abandoning Texas to run off and do other things," he says. "We very much understand that this is a core market for us and will be for a long time."