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'Don't Chicago our Whataburger:' Fans bemoan sale of Texas born-and-bred burger chain

You’d almost think folks in Chicago don’t know how to run a hamburger restaurant.

Friday’s news that an investment bank based in that Midwestern city — which, by the way, is also home to McDonald’s — had acquired a majority stake in the Texas born-and-bred Whataburger chain seemed to take away the appetites of many East Texans.

“Oh no! There goes the Texas best right out the window,” said Shannon Kay Ebarb, a Carthage resident who commented after the news was posted at news-journal.com. “Those folks in Chicago have no idea how we do things.”

Longview resident Matt Williams put it this way: “That’s like saying a Texas barbecue sauce is made in Chicago.”

And this simple demand came from Greg Branch, also of Longview: “Don’t Chicago our Whataburger.”

Fans should know all is not lost. The chain will remain based in San Antonio and BDT Capital Partners, along with members of the family that founded Whataburger, will “begin exploring expansion plans,” they said in a statement.

Growth is necessary to survive in today’s increasingly competitive fast-food market.

Whataburger’s founders, the Dobson family, will retain a minority position. President and CEO Preston Atkinson and board Chairman Tom Dobson will keep their seats on the board, but retire from daily operations. Other terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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 have a tremendous reputation for doing the right thing.”

In addition to Whataburger, BDT has also invested in Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Panera Bread, among others.

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

“Whataburger has grown significantly over the years. And, in order to keep satisfying our customers, we’ve been exploring different options to expand the brand and introduce it to new audiences,” Atkinson said. “We’ve gone through this process purposefully and diligently because we wanted to find a partner who honors our values, culture and 69-year legacy of family tradition.”

Whataburger confirmed last month it had hired investment banking firm Morgan Stanley to help the company figure out how best to fuel its expansion. Friday’s announcement was a result of that exploration.

It’s the latest chapter for the burger chain that was founded by Harmon Dobson and Paul Burton in 1950 in Corpus Christi, where it operated for six decades.

By 2008, the company had outgrown its Corpus Christi headquarters. Whataburger executives also were increasingly nervous about the damage wrought by recent hurricanes on the Texas coast. It had to shut down its Corpus Christi operations more than once because of storms, and set up temporary headquarters in San Antonio.

Lured as well by San Antonio’s larger workforce, in 2009 Whataburger moved its headquarters to the city.

Over the years, it has cemented its place as a Texas icon with fiercely devoted fans.

Whataburger has used that following to branch into other ventures. In 2013, it teamed with San Antonio grocer H-E-B to sell its fancy and spicy ketchups, pancake mix and Whatafries and other products on the retailer’s shelves.

The brand also has spilled into Texas politics. Last year, it unwittingly became a fixture of former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s failed bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz as the Democratic candidate live-streamed himself skateboarding one of the chain’s parking lots, speaking with restaurant customers or going on drive-thru runs after televised debates.

O’Rourke’s co-opting of the chain led a Cruz spokeswoman to label the El Paso congressman a “Triple Meat Whataburger liberal” — a move that drew mockery on social media.

In 2001, the state Legislature declared the company an official Texas Treasure.

The company operates more than 820 locations, with more than 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.

Most of its restaurants are company-owned, but that would change if Whataburger re-franchised the bulk of the chain, reflecting a trend playing out in the fast food industry.

Whataburger is the second Texas-born company to be sold this week. On Thursday, the family that built Schlitterbahn into a national brand sold two of its three Texas water parks to an Ohio theme park operator for $261 million.


Local
Sign on downtown Longview bank comes down to make way for new

From Staff Reports

The skyline of downtown Longview started taking on a new look Friday as a crew with a crane took on the city’s tallest building.

Workers removed the Citizens National Bank sign from the VeraBank Building, formerly known as the Kilpatrick Life Insurance Building, at 200 N. Fredonia St. in Longview.

At 10 stories, the building is Longview’s tallest downtown structure, and Brad Tidwell, president and CEO of VeraBank, said the new signs identifying the building as VeraBank are due to go up in the next few days, perhaps by Monday.

The bank changed its name Jan. 22 from Citizens National Bank to VeraBank because of growth, Tidwell said at the time. He said as Citizens grew into new markets, it was bumping up against like-named banks, so it sought a name that was identifiable.

Signs on the VeraBank Building weren’t the only view that changed Friday. A crew also removed at least one of the microwave towers that had stood atop the edifice.


Trump says he'd 'of course' tell FBI if he gets foreign dirt

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump shifted gears Friday on election interference, saying “of course” he would go to the FBI or the attorney general if a foreign power offered him dirt about an opponent.

Trump’s new stance was a walk back — to a degree — after he set off a Washington firestorm earlier in the week by asserting he would not necessarily contact law enforcement if offered damaging material from an overseas source.

But in his latest comments, the president still said he would look at the proffered information to see whether it was “incorrect.”

“Of course, you have to look at it,” Trump said during a birthday appearance on “Fox and Friends.” He added: “But of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that. You couldn’t have that happen with our country, and everybody understands that.”

That was a step back from his comments to ABC days earlier.

“OK, let’s put yourself in a position: You’re a congressman, somebody comes up and says, ‘Hey I have information on your opponent.’ Do you call the FBI? You don’t,” Trump said in an interview that aired Wednesday. “I’ll tell you what. I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI.”

His assertion that he would be open to accepting a foreign power’s help in his 2020 campaign alarmed Democrats, who condemned it as a call for further election interference while Republicans struggled to defend his comments.

Asked by ABC News what he would do if Russia or another country offered him dirt on his election opponent, Trump said: “I think I’d want to hear it.” He added that he’d have no obligation to call the FBI. “There’s nothing wrong with listening.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller painstakingly documented Russian efforts to boost Trump’s campaign and undermine that of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

In a segment released Friday from the president’s interview earlier this week, Trump told ABC that “it doesn’t matter” what former White House counsel Don McGahn told investigators and that McGahn may have been confused when he told prosecutors he had been instructed to seek Mueller’s removal.

McGahn was a crucial witness for Mueller, spending hours with investigators and offering detailed statements about episodes central to the special counsel’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice. McGahn described how Trump directed him to press the Justice Department for Mueller to be fired by insisting that he raise what the president perceived as the special counsel’s conflicts of interest.

Trump denied that account, saying, “The story on that very simply, No. 1, I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller.”

Asked why McGahn would have lied, Trump said, “Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer. Or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen — including you, including the media — that Robert Mueller was conflicted. Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.”

Though Trump tried to cast doubt on McGahn’s credibility, it is clear from the Mueller report that investigators took seriously his statements, which in many instances were accompanied by contemporaneous notes, and relied on his account to paint a portrait of the president’s conduct. It is also doubtful that McGahn, a lawyer, would have had any incentive to make a misstatement given that lying to law enforcement is a crime and Mueller’s team charged multiple Trump aides with making false statements.

Though Mueller’s investigation didn’t establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the president’s campaign, Trump repeatedly praised WikiLeaks in 2016 and at one point implored hackers to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton,

The role of Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., in organizing a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer offering negative information on Clinton was a focus of Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the last presidential campaign. Trump Jr. spoke with the Senate Intelligence Committee for about three hours Wednesday to clarify an earlier interview with the committee’s staff.


John Cornyn says candidates should notify FBI if contacted by foreign governments, but legislation isn't needed

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said at a news conference Friday that candidates for elected office should contact the FBI if offered political dirt by a foreign government.

Speaking to reporters at the University of Texas at Austin after giving closing remarks for a youth conference, Cornyn made his position on the issue clear.

“For me,” Cornyn said, “if I knew that a foreign government was trying to influence an election, I would call the FBI.”

Cornyn’s comments come in the wake of a recent ABC News interview in which President Donald Trump said he would be willing to accept damaging information on a political rival — including 2020 Democratic candidates — if approached by a foreign government.

Cornyn said Friday he doesn’t believe legislation is necessary to force presidential candidates to “do what needs to be done” and report foreign interference.


Local
Longview told it could save millions through private vehicle fleet management

Longview is considering contracting with a private company to manage its vehicle fleet in a relationship that could save the city millions of dollars.

Enterprise Fleet Management is proposing to manage the city’s fleet. Enterprise is known more commonly for its vehicle rental service, and Longview Public Works Assistant Director Dwayne Archer said using the company’s expertise could be an ideal way for Longview “to get the best bang for our buck when it’s time to sell” vehicles in the city’s fleet.

Enterprise Fleet Consultant Nathan Pickle talked to Longview City Council members about the potential savings at their regular meeting Thursday at City Hall.

“If you can imagine the fleet that Enterprise has,” Archer said, “they know fleet management.”

Longview has a fleet of 196 vehicles used across 32 departments, not including police. On average, the city acquires about 12 vehicles yearly and holds them about 16 years. Pickle said the city’s low average annual mileage of 7,253 miles allows for good resale values.

“An example would be, let’s say you bought a vehicle that originally cost $20,000 (and) over a three-year term, you guys have paid it down to $10,000, and then we turn and sell it on your behalf … for $15,000.,” Pickle said. “That $5,000 difference goes back to the city. It’s your equity.”

All told, the city could save an estimated $3.5 million over the next decade, after Enterprise collects its fees and interest, he said.

Pickle listed three key objectives that Enterprise could provide the city: a lower average age of the city’s fleet; a reduction in its operating costs; and also long-term sustainability of the fleet.

Almost 40 percent of the city’s existing fleet of vehicles is more than 10 years old, he said. The resale of those older vehicles is significantly reduced, while newer vehicles have the most up-to-date safety standards.

The total cost of buying and holding a one-half-ton pickup is more than $66,000, he said, because of $19,325 in average depreciation, $17,350 in average maintenance and repairs and nearly $30,000 in fuel costs — assuming the city holds the vehicle 10 years at 15,000 miles driven each year.

Pickle said the city would cut its maintenance costs by outsourcing to the local tax base, and its fuel expense would be reduced by 26 percent through federal corporate average fuel economy standards mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Enterprise also would review the status of the city’s fleet management every three months and assess it annually with the local account manager, he said.

The city’s fleet of vehicles, not including police, has an estimated equity of $1.066 million, Pickle said. He predicted that Enterprise could save the city $1.85 million over the next eight years, which would provide nearly $3 million in net cash.

“How Enterprise makes its money is we charge a management fee to provide all of these services back to the city,” Pickle said, “and there’s an interest portion of the payment, and then there’s a fee at the end of the lease cycle for disposal of $400.”

Enterprise has more than 90 governmental clients throughout the state including the cities of Palestine, San Marcos, Beaumont, Waxahachie and Bedford, but also Chicago, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Detroit, he said.

The city of Beaumont entered its partnership with Enterprise Fleet Management in January 2017, Fleet Manager Jeff Harville said. Enterprise is quick to respond when issues arise, consistently and timely gets monthly budget information to city staff and makes it “very easy” to get vehicles re-inspected and retagged to meet state requirements, he said.

“They work very well with us,” Harville said. “I don’t have any issues with anything. … Everything is really easy with those guys.”

Enterprise has helped Beaumont achieve those key objectives of providing savings, lowering the average age of the vehicle fleet and providing sustainability, he said, adding that the partnership also has allowed Harville to purchase more vehicles in a fiscal year because the upfront costs of a lease are significantly less than an outright purchase.

Also, using vehicles on a shorter term means that they’re likely under warranty while in the city’s fleet, Harville said.

“Obviously, when you have newer vehicles in the fleet, your maintenance costs are nothing except oil changes,” he said.

If Longview contracts with Enterprise, the city could end the partnership at any time. The city would keep the vehicles but owe their residual value at that time, Pickle said.

City staff and council members gave no timetable for when a decision about the partnership would be determined. The city is within its budget-writing season for fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1.