How What-A-Burger And Whataburger Learned To Coexist

Correction 3/21/22: An earlier version of this story misstated details of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's 2004 court ruling about Whataburger and What-A-Burger. What-A-Burger isn't currently infringing on the Whataburger trademark because the latter chain isn't operating in Virginia, not because the two companies came to an agreement.

If you're a native of Texas, Florida, or another Southern state, there's a good chance you love or know someone who loves Whataburger. The regional fast-food chain, which started selling 25-cent burgers in Corpus Christi, Texas back in 1950 (via Whataburger), may be small, but it's darn popular for what it does. The company boasts near-endless customization options for its burgers — 36,864 ways, to be exact (via 24-7 Press Release) — a trademark orange-and-white color scheme, and very select locations in the American Southwest and Southeast. It's something of a legend in Texas, according to Bon Appetit, making it all the more tempting to go down and see what all the hype is about.

But that doesn't mean our friends in Virginia and the Carolinas don't have their own regional hamburgers with a similar name to be proud of. There's also a fast-food chain known as What-A-Burger, which has alleged that Jack Branch founded one of its locations before Harmon Dobson registered the Whataburger trademark in 1957.

So, how could two burger companies, both sharing a variant of the same name, come to an agreement without having to change one of their names? 

The restaurant chains came to an agreement

In 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Whataburger can use its trademark in Virginia if it ever expands its operations into the state. But because Whataburger doesn't currently operate in Virginia, What-A-Burger is safe (for now, at least). 

"There is no evidence — nor can we imagine any — that consumers are currently likely to be confused about whether the burgers served by Virginia W-A-B come from Texas or Virginia," the court ruling states, per Whataburger's legal counsel. As of today, Whataburger restaurants still boast eye-catching architecture and a bright orange color scheme, while What-A-Burgers are more muted with simpler décor, per the Houston Chronicle

Strangely, this isn't the first time a larger burger chain and an obscure restaurant found themselves sharing a name. There's also a Burger King in Mattoon, Illinois that has absolutely nothing to do with the King, the Whopper, or any of the other items commonly associated with the worldwide chain. Opened in 1952 — two years before the mainstream Burger King opened, per Eater — this little burger stop is owned by Gene and Betty Hoots. When Burger King came rolling into town in 1968, the Hootses sued to keep their name, and they and technically won. According to Marketplace, the bigger Burger King was able to keep its name but was unable to open a B.K. within a 20-mile radius of the "original" Burger King.