Leadership

Whataburger names Ed Nelson CEO

The chain’s president took the helm as the chain expands and plans to start franchising.
Whataburger CEO
Photo courtesy of Whataburger

Whataburger on Monday promoted the company’s president, Ed Nelson, to CEO as the chain continues to plot its expansion plans under new owner BDT Capital Partners.

Nelson, who had spent more than a decade as the San Antonio-based burger chain’s CFO, was named president last year after Whataburger bought a majority stake in the family-owned company. He takes over as CEO from Preston Atkinson.

Nelson’s task will be to guide the chain’s expansion and its move into franchising. The company launched curbside and delivery while he was president, built seven new restaurants and plans another nine by the end of the year, and unveiled a new prototype.

Whataburger also plans to start franchising for the first time in 20 years—a sign of big change under BDT for what had been a predominantly company-owned and family run company.

The company also revealed in an announcement of Nelson’s promotion that its sales hit records during the coronavirus. “Despite the challenging environment presented by COVID-19, Whataburger’s sales have surpassed existing records, and the restaurant teams have achieved new levels of operational success, outperforming the industry,” Tiffany Hagge, partner with BDT and a Whataburger board member, said in a statement.

Nelson takes over for an 837-unit chain with a cult following. BDT acquired a majority stake in the chain last year, prompting at least some consternation from the company’s customers who worried it would lose its Texas character.

But the sale, and Nelson’s hiring, promises a push into new markets. The company announced plans to start franchising earlier this summer, a push that could bring Whataburger into new markets like Kansas City and Tennessee.

The company said on Monday that it deployed a 15-person “Strategy Council” to navigate challenged brought about by the pandemic. The company instead pushed curbside, delivery and its online app.

Whataburger also noted that Nelson “helped shift the company mindset to be more operationally efficient.”

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.

Exclusive Content

Financing

Why the Burgerim settlement exposes flaws in franchise oversight

The Bottom Line: The federal government allowed the chain’s founder to avoid major penalties by simply paying $1,000. What’s the point of regulation in the first place?

Food

Why the Smashed Jack sparked record-smashing demand at Jack in the Box

Behind the Menu: The chain’s newest menu addition aims to break the mold on what a fast-food burger can be, and customers are buying in.

Financing

Why Wingstop isn't afraid of Popeyes' chicken wings

The Bottom Line: The fast-casual wing chain says its sales improve when another brand pushes the product. Here’s why that might be.