THE WHATABURGER DRIVE-THRU – “I’ll take a Grease Glob with cheese and fries,” I say. The voice from behind the window says, “Ya want dat ta go, or you gonna sit der and eat it now and clog up da line behind you? Fugetaboutit!” Obviously there have been some changes in management here along with a change in ownership. Yes, our beloved Whataburger chain has been sold to Yankees, specifically some unknown, faceless financial group in Chicago, who thinks Chimney Rock is a dance and a half Nelson is Willie’s stepbrother. Then there is Schlitterbahn, that Texas-based outdoor water park which is being sold to a group in Ohio, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., for $261 million.
What’s next? We must fear that the Alamo will be bought by Ben & Jerry’s, featuring flavors like Bowie Knife Cream, Lemon Rose of Texas, The Ice of Texas, that Christmas-time favorite, Santa Claus Anna and Remember the a la Mode. We can imagine how the San Jacinto Monument will look when Elon Musk fits it with fins and a nose cone and blasts it off to Mars. We could rent out the USS Texas to Gulf ports as a party boat. “Let’s give Greg a 21-gun salute! Oops. Sorry about that, Mobile.” How about selling the Johnson Space Center to a theme park corporation: “Visit the Lone Stars! You don’t have to be a Crockett scientist!”
OK, we must not panic, so let’s look at these situations. First, how we got here. Whataburger was founded by Harmon Dobson and Paul Burton and opened its first restaurant in Corpus Christi in 1950. Now based in San Antonio, it has been family-owned by the Dobsons ever since. There are 824 Whataburger stores across the Southeast and Southwest.
Adam Chandler, author of the forthcoming “Drive-Thru Dreams,” a book about the fast-food industry, wrote in none other than Time magazine, “In April 2001, a joint resolution passed the Texas House and Senate that declared Whataburger the state’s beloved fast-food chain, to be a ‘Texas Treasure.’ In the most Texan fashion imaginable, the bill honoring the burger institution was introduced by the state chair of the Texas Public Health Committee.
Whataburger may be the only thing that Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke could both admit to loving.” Memes depicting heartbreak and offense were circulated. “182 men didn’t die at The Alamo just so we could give @Whataburger over to Chicago.” Chandler ends with: “Something does sting about seeing it go from a family-owned operation to a column in an investment-firm ledger in a faraway place. For many in the Lone Star State, there’s still an inescapable sense that Texas has just been messed with.”
A final stab in the bun comes from Raygun, an Iowa-based store which sells T-shirts and such showing local pride. It has launched a T-shirt with the Whataburger orange logo stripes and: “Chicago’s Most Famous Texas Hamburger Chain (as of June 2019).” Raygun then posted: “Now that Whataburger belongs to Chicago, we celebrate with a shirt.” And, stealing from our “Come and take it” battle cry, “Chicago came and took it.” We could start selling T-shirts reading; “Houston – soon to be bigger than Chicago.” (The Windy City with 2.7 million is losing population. Houston with 2.3 million is gaining.)
As for Schlitterbahn, it sold a water park and resort in New Braunfels and another property in Galveston to Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. in a $261 million deal. Cedar Fair also will have the right to buy Schlitterbahn’s Kansas water park. The Kansas City park is where 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was decapitated in August of 2016 on a 17-story slide. The raft he was riding on went airborne and hit a metal pole. Prosecutors filed criminal charges against Schlitterbahn’s co-owner, the ride’s designer and a bunch of others. Nothing came of the charges. Nevertheless, Caleb’s family received nearly $20 million in settlements. So maybe it’s just as well that the parks are no longer Texas-owned.
Sometimes Texas things (or thangs as they don’t say in Chicago) leave and come back. Texas Monthly was founded by Mike Levy of Dallas and Austin in 1973. Indiana-based Emmis Communications bought the magazine in 1998. In 2016, TM came home when it was purchased by Paul Hobby and others for $25 million. (Hobby could afford the price because of all that money from his family’s airport.) Now it has been sold again, this time to Randa Duncan Williams of Houston. Forbes 400 lists her wealth, inherited from her father, at $6.2 billion. So TM, “the national magazine of Texas,” has been sold, but still has a Lone Star owner.
Now stay here.
Before we get bent out of shape over foreign ownership of Texas, we must remember that a Chicago firm built our beautiful state capitol for free. Well, actually in exchange, we gave that Chicago firm land in 10 counties in the Panhandle. It is called the XIT Ranch – X (or 10) In Texas. The Houston Rockets and the Astros were once owned by out-of-staters, Les Alexander and John McMullen, respectively. Remember the expression: “I’m not from Texas, but I got here as soon as I could.” We bask in reflected glory and claim out-of-staters like George W. Bush (New Haven, Conn.), Dr. Michael DeBakey (Lake Charles), Walter Cronkite (Saint Joseph, Mo.) and Roger Clemens (Dayton, Ohio).
We shall know if the Windy City takeover is complete when we hear a new version of this old joke: Three guys are driving across Texas when they come to the town of Mexia. The driver says, “Here we are, boys, in MEX-e-uh.” The second traveler says, “No, it’s pronounced MEX-eye-a.” The third traveler shakes his head. “You’re both wrong. It’s muh-HAY-yuh. Let’s stop at this hamburger joint and ask.” So they drive up, go in and sit down at a booth. “Excuse me, Miss,” says one of the travelers, “but how do you pronounce the name of this place?” The waitress sighs and says, “WIND-ees.”
Ashby sells out at email@example.com