Rockport, Texas residents Karl and Carol Hoepfner — officially named "Whataburger's Biggest Fans" by the restaurant — stopped into the Sweetwater location on Friday morning, Nov. 4, 2011 during their tour to visit every single Whataburger site.
Wearing their Whataburger shirts, bracelets and — most notably, their blue hats speckled with the pins mimicking the stickers on specially made orders ("no onions", "mustard", etc.), the couple recounted their journey from overnight pastime to journey of a lifetime.
Carol had been diagnosed with eye cancer and was at MD Anderson in Houston for radiation treatments. To pass the time between treatments, she and Karl decided to visit a few Whataburgers. Before they knew it, their visits to Whataburger had grown to 90 restaurants and their Whataburger journey began.
Their stop in Sweetwater is actually the 462nd place to reach the goal of stopping at all 722 restaurants. Whataburger spans over 10 states, mainly in the South, from Georgia to Arizona.
And their celebrity status doesn't end in the US for the Hoepfners. Among the seven television appearances and a plethora of newspaper interviews, the Air Force Times as well as the London Daily Mail have also chronicled their trek.
Most people would think the traveling would become redundant, but Karl and Carol have always had a love for traveling — at 75 and 73 years old, respectively.
"We feel half our age," said Karl.
Added Carol, "We're having a ball."
But how did they win the title of "Whataburger's Biggest Fan"? The Hoepfners entered the contest last November and won after Karl, who is an author, wrote the winning essay. This past April, they received their award at the annual Whatagames.
Their prize consisted of winning $8,600 worth of gift cards, but in the spirit of giving back, they only took one thousand gift cards at $7 apiece to give to the homeless and needy along their journey. Karl stated that just last week, they were able to give away their last 25 gift cards.
Also during the Whatagames, the Hoepfners shared about the competition on how the top representatives from the restaurants battle in a "stress test" of sorts. The employees are given different situations to resolve and compete in timing and food weight competitions, where they can win prizes up to $50,000 for their location.
The Hoepfners appreciate Whataburger not only for their food, but for their willingness to help others. While in Sweetwater, they were given an older line of promotional shirts. The shirts, along with other Whataburger memorabilia they get along the way, is put into an auction which benefits the Family Foundation.
In turn, the Family Foundation donates money to Whataburger team members who fall into tough times. When Hurricane Katrina hit and a number of stores were shut down, the organization gave employees $250 a week as pay during their time off and even paid for hotel and food expenses.
The hospitality of the corporation — which the Hoepfners praise as a family-owned and operated business — has also made its way to each Whataburger. Karl noted that at each location they are treated great and warmly welcomed.
Upon leaving Sweetwater, Karl and Carol were stopping in locations in Abilene, Clyde and Brownwood before heading out of the Big Country. After a few more stops, they would be back in Rockport, having completed another leg of their trip which included 56 Whataburgers.