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Founding family sells control of Whataburger

The Dobsons will become minority investors in the 69-year-old burger chain, with the majority stake held by BDT, a financial institution that specializes in funding family-run businesses.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Dobson family, owners of the Whataburger quick-service chain since the first restaurant opened in 1950, has agreed to sell a majority stake in the operation to BDT Capital Partners, a merchant bank with a client list of family-run businesses. 

The terms were not disclosed.

The sale of a controlling interest will provide Whataburger with the financing and know-how to accelerate the cult brand’s expansion, the burger chain said in a website posting. 

When the deal closes later this summer, Whataburger CEO and President Preston Atkinson and Chairman Tom Dobson will step out of day to day operations to focus on another one of the Dobson family’s businesses, an investment firm focused on philanthropy called Las Aguilas. They will remain on the burger chain's board.

Ed Nelson, currently CFO and controller of Whataburger, will move up to president at that time.  

A new CEO was not named. 

Leonard Mazzocco, currently VP of business operations, will become COO and SVP, Rob Rodriguez will move up from SVP of restaurants to chief restaurant operating officer, and James Turcotte, now SVP of real estate, will rise to chief development officer. 

The posted statement from Whataburger stressed that the concept will remain unchanged as it grows beyond its Southwestern base.

“This is both exciting and bittersweet for the Dobson family,” said Tom Dobson, who formerly served as CEO. “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. They have a track record of success with businesses as special as ours that want to grow, while preserving culture and family history.”

The chain has grown from a roadside stand opened 69 years ago by Harmon Dobson into an 820-unit operation generating systemwide sales of $2 billion across 10 states.

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