WHAT-A-CHANGE

Ken Hoffman digs into the juiciest questions after Whataburger's surprising sale

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.


The headline induced heart palpations in drive-thru burger fans across Texas and neighboring states … "Texas-based Whataburger sells to new owner amid expansion plans." While that sounds unsettling, the real concern is:

What does this mean to Whataburger's everyday (sometimes twice-a-day) customer in Texas?

In the immediate future — like tomorrow, next week, next year — probably very little. But in the long run, all bets are off. Most likely, there will be significant changes at your local Whataburger over the next three to five years.

Whataburger is now owned by a private equity company (Chicago's BDT Capital Partners), which may not know a Chop House Cheddar Burger from a Whatacatch Sandwich — and doesn't understand that when you're stuck in morning traffic on I-45, nothing beats a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit.

That investment company bought Whataburger for only one reason: to make money. Shocking, that's what investment companies do. They are not fast food philanthropists. They're financial killers who want to see a return on their investment.

What's next?

So don't be surprised if they take Whataburger national. That's my big takeaway. It may mean Whataburger may have less Texas on its menu in the future.

The new owners are buying a very successful or stagnant company, depending on how you crunch the numbers. According to QSR Magazine, the bible of the fast food industry, Whataburger is only the No. 22 fast food chain in the U.S. — with total sales of $2.2 billion for its 821 restaurants across 10 states.

But, more important, Whataburger has the second highest sales per store, $2.7 million. That beats the average McDonald's, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy's, etc. — the whole bunch of national biggies. Only Chick-fil-A has higher sales per store, a printing press $4 million.

What a deal?

If Whataburger is so successful on a per-store basis, why did the owners sell? Two factors, one probably, one definitely. In Godfather terms, the investment company probably made them an offer they couldn't refuse. While Whataburger has phenomenal sales per unit, it was growing at a very slow rate — only 15 new restaurants in 2017. That same year, Chick-fil-A opened 140 new restaurants. Taco Bell opened 168 new units. Domino's expanded by 216 locations. Popeyes popped the lid on 147 places.

Continue reading on CultureMap to learn about how the rising price of beef could impact burger chains.

WEEKEND GETAWAYS

The best places to visit in San Antonio

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

One of the great mysteries of Houston life is that so many locals don't take better advantage of San Antonio. Not only is the Alamo City a cultural jewel with more than 300 years of history proudly on display, it is also a strikingly modern city with chic boutique hotels, innovative restaurants, and some of the best shopping in Texas.

In a time when cities across the world are starting to feel numbingly the same, San Antonio has kept its identity. What's travel if not a chance to experience some place unique?

Where to eat and drink

Eastside Kitchenette

After a long period spent renovating its 1906 building, this project from owner chefs Jenn and Jeff White debuted in January with a comforting menu melding the best of Southern and Hill Country cuisine. The dishes — catfish, meatloaf, and even spinach artichoke dip — certainly appeal to traditionalists, but Eastside doesn't exactly deliver home cooking. That catfish is stuffed with sweet blue crab, the meatloaf comes with a side of black garlic broccoli, and the bacon Parmesan streusel topping the dip was never in a Junior League cookbook.

Jet-Setter

The newest player in the downtown bar scene is literally underground, giving it an exclusive speakeasy vibe. Still, once revelers descend the steps, it's clear that its head is in the clouds. Taking style cues from midcentury airports, the lounge has vintage vibes without looking like a Mad Men set. The cocktails are fully contemporary, using ingredients from destinations all over the world.

Lala's Gorditas
The owner of this Southside restaurant, Steve Pizzini, is San Antonio restaurant royalty. His aunt Ernestine Pizzini Chapa founded Teka Molino in 1938 before father Herman Pizzini launched Taco Hut in 1958, and both quickly rose to become some of the Alamo City's most beloved concepts. That's a lot to live up to, but Pizzini rises to the occasion with extravagantly overstuffed gorditas, shatteringly crisp puffy tacos, and deep caramel flan baked every day.

Swine House Bodega
This downtown sandwich shop is serious about its sourcing, using only ethically raised breeds from area farms. For owner Joe Saenz, it's not just a matter of being a responsible global citizen. Pasture-raised meats also taste better, a fact readily apparent in the Swine House's New York-style subs and biscuit sandwiches. Be warned that the shop is only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch. What better excuse to extend a weekend day trip?

Continue reading on CultureMap to find out the best places to shop.

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