San Antonio's beloved Whataburger opens first store with polarizing new design
Once known as a hub for locomotive shops operated by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, the Waco suburb of Bellmead now can savor another distinction. It’s the first place in the U.S. with a Whataburger that showcases the burger chain’s updated restaurant design.
The new-look restaurant replaces an older Whataburger at 950 N. Loop 340, near I-35 and directly northeast of Waco. The 4,651-square-foot successor restaurant, which opened November 17, represents the debut of the company's new prototype for large-format locations.
“There’s a lot of things that people hold sacred, if you will, about our brand,” James Turcotte, senior vice president of real estate at San Antonio-based Whataburger, says on the company’s website. “That’s the iconic A-frame, the visuals, our branding, the linkage to our past. We really tried to blend those concepts [into] the prototype.”
In July, the company revealed a makeover for its larger restaurants. Under the design scheme, new Whataburger structures typically will lack their iconic A-frame, corrugated-metal design, which dates back to the 1950s. Rather, an A-frame architectural element will appear behind the chain’s “W” logo above the front entrance. Also, the reimagined exterior scales back the familiar orange-and-white color palette.
Other design highlights of the new Bellmead restaurant, with room for 84 guests, are:
- Orange, gray, and white seating.
- Wood flooring and accents that lend a warm, cozy feeling.
- Light-colored brick, stone, and metal exterior.
- Lots of glass to let in more natural light.
- Wallpaper that includes subtle images of Bellmead’s water tower, the old MKT railyard, and an “LV” symbol paying tribute to the old La Vega High School.
“Our new large-unit prototype helps us serve more guests, even better than before. From a new kitchen layout to maintenance-free finishes, Bellmead’s new restaurant is designed to give our employees the best environment possible to serve up the delicious burgers and friendly customer service our customers know and love,” Whataburger spokesman Will Webber says in a statement provided to CultureMap.
One fan of the new Whataburger vibe is Bellmead City Manager Yost Zakhary.
“It looks futuristic, is beautifully laid-out, and looks as if they are really gearing up to accommodate drive-thru traffic and call-in texts for curbside delivery,” Zakhary told the Waco Tribune. “It seems to be very customer friendly, with a good-sized dining room. I would envision it becoming a place just to hang out and do work. Within six months, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the top-selling store in the district, judging by my conversations with Whataburger.”
Regular customer Ben Macias told local TV station KWTX that he loved the modern appearance of the new Whataburger in Bellmead.
“I like what they did with it. … It’s an improvement [over] what they had,” Macias said.
When Whataburger took the wraps off the revamped restaurant design this summer, some folks on Twitter were not as kind as Zakhary and Macias.
For instance, one Twitter user lodged this complaint: “@Whataburger is putting on a new face that doesn’t compare to its iconic A-frame restaurants, which portray a uniqueness and differentiation from other burger joints. Maybe more modern, but it diminishes the appeal and brand equity the company commands from the curb.”
Another Twitter critic bemoaned the new design as “boring and bland,” while still another decried it as “a slap in the face of the original design.”