When Whataburger arrives later this year in Kansas City, the popular Texas-based restaurant chain is expected to bring more than its spicy ketchup and an iconic burger that takes two hands to hold.
Company and city officials on Thursday emphasized a local hunger for both the 70-year-old brand and the 700 jobs it plans to add across its first four metro locations — notably in Blue Springs where a crowd gathered this week to get their first taste of Whataburger at a groundbreaking event.
“Our leadership teams are in place; 90-plus percent of them are from the market, and the other couple people can’t wait to get here,” Scott Phillips, regional director of operations for Whataburger, told Startland News. “When word got out that a new Whataburger was coming, there was a lot of excitement and we were able to hire a lot of great people.”
Blue Springs was one of the first Kansas City locations to be identified for Whataburger’s debut expansion into Kansas and Missouri, company officials said, noting the decision to enter the market was driven by fans’ appetites and strategic alignment with Kansas City’s “hometown” feel.
“We had been eyeing the Kansas City area for several years before announcing our arrival,” Phillips said. “It’s a vibrant, family-friendly community with a rich culture, and we’ve been investing time in getting to know the city, its leaders and people, and how Whataburger can be a resource to the community.”
Carson Ross, Blue Springs mayor, took the first bite of Whataburger’s potential Thursday at the groundbreaking event.
“They could see our city is on the move and on the right track,” Ross told the crowd, gesturing toward heavy traffic zooming past the future Whataburger site — a former Winstead’s restaurant set for demolition — along I-70. “They have the brand; we have the location.”
Whataburger has confirmed four Kansas City-area locations set to open later this year: Blue Springs, Overland Park, Lee’s Summit and Independence. The company refrained from sharing its 2022 expansion plans, which are expected to include a second Overland Park location, according to media reports.
Click here to read more about Whataburger’s debut locations.
The new-build restaurants — all corporate locations (though Whataburger also operates franchise stores) — are expected to stay true to Whataburger’s unique orange-and-white stripe style, but with an updated modern aesthetic, Phillips said.
“The Whataburger restaurants will feature a new look we’ve been rolling out to better serve our guests, increase our capacity, reduce our environmental footprint and continue to deliver the high-quality food and friendly customer service our customers expect and will learn to expect from us,” he said.
Headquartered in San Antonio, the company has more than 850 locations across 10 states — Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — and about 50,000 employees or “Family Members” company-wide that serve more than 60 million guests annually.
Its restaurants are known for being open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Phillips acknowledged industry-wide challenges related to hiring, but said Whataburger’s efforts to partner with local cities, civic organizations and entities like Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley Campus and the Kansas City Mavericks — along with a robust career training program — keep the talent pipeline flowing to the restaurant (and jobs that can hit the six figures).
“Employees are automatically placed into our Restaurant Career Development Program, putting them on the path to growth from Day 1,” he said. “… Even without restaurant experience, leaders can succeed at Whataburger with the right attitude and leadership ability.”
Click here to learn more about Whataburger employment opportunities.
Excitement for the legacy brand stems from a number of factors, Phillips said: Whataburger’s customizable, made-to-order burgers; its fan-favorite Fancy Ketchup (beloved by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes); and pop culture ties to such TV shows as “King of the Hill” and “Friday Night Lights.”
But the real hero of the story is Harmon Dobson, the “adventurous and determined entrepreneur” who founded the world’s first Whataburger Aug. 8, 1950, in Corpus Christi, Texas, he said.
“Whataburger really is the example of what one man with a vision can accomplish; taking a dream and being able to put it into his first building in Corpus Christi is really why we’re here today in Blue Springs,” Phillips said. “It’s because of his entrepreneurial spirit.”