Beefing up its presence

San Antonio’s beloved Whataburger stakes claim among fastest-growing restaurant chains

Whataburger stakes claim among fastest-growing U.S. restaurant chains

Whataburger exterior
San Antonio's favorite burger chain is the big cheese in Texas and beyond. Photo by Elizabeth James

Beloved San Antonio-based chain Whataburger is no longer a Texas secret, and the numbers show it.

Whataburger ranks 22nd on QSR magazine’s new list of the 27 fastest-growing quick-service restaurant chains in the U.S. According to QSR data, Whataburger added 14 locations from 2019 to 2020. As of the end of last year, Whataburger had 844 restaurants in the U.S.: 730 company-owned and 114 franchised restaurants.

The chain rang up nearly $2.7 billion in sales last year, according to QSR. Whataburger says its annual sales exceed $2.8 billion.

As part of its growth strategy, Whataburger revealed in August that franchisee KMO Burger plans to open 30 restaurants in Kansas and Missouri in the next seven years. KMO’s investors include Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and Texas Tech University alum Patrick Mahomes. 

Farther south, five Whataburger locations are scheduled to open in 2022 and 2023 in the Memphis, Tennessee, area. That’ll mark Whataburger’s entry into the Memphis market.

Whataburger also is breaking into the Nashville and Colorado Springs, Colorado, markets.

The chain is set to open 37 new locations this year.

These expansion efforts come on the heels of Chicago-based investment firm BDT Capital Partners buying a majority stake in Whataburger in 2019. BDT also owns the Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme chains.

Whataburger executives vow that despite the tremendous growth, the chain will never overlook its Texas roots.

“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. 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,” James Turcotte, executive vice president and chief development officer at Whataburger, told CultureMap last year.

“So, in no way, shape, or form should anybody think that we’re abandoning Texas to run off and do other things,” he added. “We very much understand that this is a core market for us and will be for a long time.”

Two other Texas-based chains appear on the QSR list: No. 4-ranked Wingstop, based in Addison, and No. 13-ranked Smoothie King, based in Coppell.

QSR says Wingstop tacked on 153 locations last year. The chain ended 2020 with 1,538 restaurants, comprising 1,506 franchised and 32 company-owned locations. Wingstop posted sales of $2 billion last year.

Meanwhile, Smoothie King whipped up 39 new locations in 2020, ending the year with 1,008 locations. Its 968 franchised and 40 company-owned spots recorded sales of $464 million last year, according to QSR.

Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks tops the QSR list, with the addition last year of 287 U.S. locations.