If you’ve ever been to Texas, and especially if you’ve ever met somebody from Texas, you know at least something about Whataburger. The fast-food chain, with over 800 locations as of this article’s publication, is a cultural mainstay of the region. While its empire has expanded over the years to other parts of the U.S.’ Southern half, with additional franchises in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, the late-night burger stand is upheld first and foremost as an institution of the Lone Star state.
On Friday, Whataburger announced that the Texas-held company has been sold to Chicago-based bank BDT Capital Partners, LLC. While the chain will remain headquartered in San Antonio, the sale comes as Whataburger reportedly looks to expand its empire of burgers, melts, and other fare on a broader scale. Anticipating blowback from the locals, inasmuch as an entire state’s population can be “the locals,” Whataburger even took to Twitter to try and assuage fan concerns:
Something about the leap from “franchises in other states” to “the end of solitary ownership” has incensed many locals, however. In the parlance of the punk scene, Whataburger has sold out. (In fairness, anybody who’s been to Santa Monica, California and beheld a chromed-out Steak N’ Shake where all the food costs twice as much can understand where the purity of the thing can be diminished by a change in ownership.)
While ownership insists that nothing will ultimately change about Whataburger, some famous skeptics have chimed in. Houston Texans linebacker and notable state guardian angel J.J. Watt chimed in with his support for a buyback:
Additionally, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (who’s otherwise been busy expanding beer sales, legalizing lemonade stands, and protecting Chick-Fil-A in recent weeks) popped up to do a meme and say hello to all the fellow kids:
While it’s easy enough to poke fun at Texans panicking about a company that’s already expanded well beyond the state, Whataburger holds a special place among locals that few other regional chains can match. It’s everything from a shorthand for wild late nights out to a rallying point in times of crisis. So while Whataburger is likely there to stay, it’s no longer just there anymore. It’s the end of an era, even as it’s ultimately not.