CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — To the tourists filing in and out, taking pictures as close as they can get to the Whataburger by the Bay’s iconic A-frame, it’s a must-see. For a local mom, it’s as a good a place as any to give her young daughter a primer on the difference between present and future verb tenses. And for the Cavazos, Gonzalez and Acuña families, it’s a good place to get caught up, despite the circumstances bringing them together.
Whataburger celebrated its 69th birthday Thursday the way it always does: By feeding people. And whether they noticed the orange and white balloons peppered in bunches hanging from the ceiling, or in columns by the doors, everyone who walked in the door was invited to the party.
When Harmon Dobson and Paul Burton opened their first Whataburger on Aug. 8, 1950, it was a small stand on Ayers Street across from Del Mar College with 25-cent burgers. Their goal was to make a product that would make people exclaim “What a burger!” Little did they know that, to Corpus Christi, their creation would never be just a burger.
In the middle of the lower level of the Whataburger by the Bay on Thursday, a lively group of 10 customers stood out across three tables pushed together in the center of the restaurant. Three generations of the Cavazos, Gonzalez and Acuña families had come together earlier in the day to mourn the loss of a family member, and Whataburger seemed like a logical place to end up.
“It’s a comfy place,” Rosa Cavazos said. “When we were leaving the funeral home and wanted to get something to eat, most of us said ‘Whataburger.’”
Their kinship with the restaurant goes back a ways – 1969, to be exact.
It was where 66-year-old Esiquiel Cavazos, Rosa’s husband, worked as a 16-year-old young man. He smiles as he remembers working his way up from prepping vegetables in the back, to working the grill. It even played a role in wooing his wife of 46 years.
Rosa tells the story as if it had happened yesterday.
“We were both born and raised in Corpus Christi,” she said. “Every night he would bring me a burger, French fries, an apple pie and a root beer. Back then the cups were like little tubs – they were big!”
“I would get a burger,” said her brother, George Acuña.
“Yes! He did, too,” she said, pointing toward Acuña. “And a pie.”
For this family, and its extended family, it’ll always signify comfort. And home.
“He was in the Air Force,” Rosa said. “But our first stop every time we came to Texas was Whataburger.”
For Estela Gonzalez, the Cavazos’ niece, it brings back fun memories of her childhood neighborhood, her years at Schanen Middle School, and friends.
"We would meet in the Whataburger across the street (from school)," Gonzalez said, "We were all broke. We'd pool our money together and buy a bunch of french fries and then just hangout there and do our homework. If someone from another school tried to come it was "This is ours! Go to your Whataburger!"
She also remembers it as a popular stop for her out-of-town family.
“You have to (go to Whataburger),” she said. “It’s just a thing you do.”