Whataburger sells majority ownership stake to Chicago investment firm.

Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners said Friday it’s agreed to acquire a majority stake in Whataburger.

The burger chain will remain headquartered in San Antonio, and the groups will “begin exploring expansion plans,” they said in a statement.

Whataburger’s founders, the Dobson family, will keep a minority position in the company. President and CEO Preston Atkinson and Chairman Tom Dobson will retain their seats on the board but retire from daily operations.

Both will turn to running Las Aguilas, an investment company launched by the Dobson family in 2011 that focuses on real estate and philanthropy.

The decision “is both exciting and bittersweet” for the family, Tom Dobson said.

“Whataburger has been the heart and soul of our family legacy for nearly 70 years, but we feel really good about the partnership with BDT,” he said.

“They have a track record of success with businesses as special as ours that want to grow, while preserving culture and family history. They are trusted advisors and partners who have worked closely with other family businesses and they have a tremendous reputation for doing the right thing,” he added.

Ed Nelson, Whataburger’s chief financial officer and controller, will become president. Several other company executives are also being promoted.

“Whataburger has grown significantly over the years,” Atkinson said. “In order to keep satisfying our customers, we’ve been exploring different options to expand the brand and introduce it to new audiences.”

Whataburger confirmed last month that it hired investment banking firm Morgan Stanley to help the company figure out how best to fuel its expansion.

“Our company is growing and is always attractive to investors, and we’ve brought in Morgan Stanley to help us explore our options,” a Whataburger spokesperson said in an email. “We have always evaluated the opportunities that can accelerate growth and maintain the success of our brand, and we will continue to do so in the future.”

Whataburger is the latest in a line of San Antonio companies bought by a private equity firm or lost to an outside merger within the past three years.

Since then, Whataburger has cemented its place as a Texas icon with a vast cultural cache. The burger chain used social media to cultivate a devoted following — gaining 1.3 million followers on Twitter with its casual, conversational tone.

Whataburger obsessives now host social-media-ready birthdays, engagement photo shoots and, yes, weddings at the chain’s restaurants. Customers regularly steal the chain’s orange-and-white table tents bearing order numbers as mementos — or to sell them on eBay.

The company operates more than 820 locations, with over 670 in Texas alone. Whataburger’s other locations are in the South and Southwest, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Source – Mysanantonio.com

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