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Whatasale: Whataburger sold to Chicago-based merchant banking company

Texas' biggest family-owned burger chain is no longer family owned. As of Friday, BDT Capital Partners has acquired a majority interest in Whataburger.

Updated at 3:30 p.m. June 25 with corrections.

Texas' biggest family-owned burger chain is no longer family owned. As of Friday, BDT Capital Partners has acquired a majority interest in Whataburger.

BDT is a Chicago-based merchant banking company specializing in family and founder-led companies (like Whataburger). 

The company also holds majority shares in Sara Lee's coffee brand, Panera, Peet's Coffee & Tea, Caribou Coffee, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Einstein's, among others. It was founded by Byron Trott, a former vice chairman of investment banking at Goldman Sachs.

RELATED: JJ Watt on Whataburger sale: Let's buy it back!

Under the new ownership, Whataburger will remain headquartered in San Antonio and still be led by "a team of key Whataburger executives with more than 150 years of combined experience with the brand," according to a Friday news release from Whataburger.

RELATED: Whataburger for sale? Texas-based fast-food chain confirms hiring Morgan Stanley to explore sale

Business experts believe the sale could mean the fast food chain will expand outside the region. 

“This acquisition is not about hamburgers. It’s about finance,” said Mike Davis, a senior lecturer at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.

Unlike many other fast food restaurants, Whataburger is doing well. 

“The Whataburger model is working relatively well right now,” Davis said. “This acquisition was really all about Whataburger trying to enlist some outside help to help them raise the capital, and also the expertise to expand nationwide.”

But some North Texans aren't excited about expansion outside the region.

“This is a Texas restaurant. Do we want it to be national?” Don Ireland said outside a Whataburger.

Others said they're not worried about expansion as long as the menu stays the same. 

“As long as they don’t change the menu, we’re good,” Shelton Elie said. 

The Dobson Family, who founded the company in Corpus Christi in 1950, will still hold a minority ownership stake in the company, according to the news release.

There are currently more than 700 Whataburger stores in 10 states. According to the news release, "BDT and the Whataburger team will begin exploring expansion plans."

North Texan Virginia Miller said she likes hearing from out-of-state clients visiting the area and trying Whataburger. 

“When they come here, it’s like a treat," Miller said. 

In addition to possible expansion, the burger chain will undergo a corporate restructuring. Whataburger President/CEO Preston Atkinson and Board Chairman Tom Dobson will stay on the company's board of directors and retire from operating the company day-to-day, according to the news release. 

This would move Ed Nelson to the president position, and would move up several other tenured executives.

News broke earlier this year that Whataburger was considering a sale and was bringing in Morgan Stanley to help broker a deal. Friday's news release confirmed that Morgan Stanley supervised the transaction. The deal will be subjected to the customary regulatory checks, and the deal is not expected to be completely finalized until the end of the summer, according to the news release.

“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 in the news release. "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.

“We’re excited about the partnership with BDT because they respect and admire the brand we’ve built. They want to preserve it while they help us continue growing a sustainable, competitive business over a long period of time. They don’t plan to change our recipe for success.”


Correction, 3:30 p.m. June 25, 2019: An earlier version of this story said BDT Capital Partners owned a majority stake in Dunkin'. It does not. An earlier version also categorized BDT Capital as an investment banking company; it is a merchant banking company.

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