What-a-Burger

6117 Jefferson Avenue, Newport News, VA 23605
757-838-3111

THEN: NOW:
 
  Thursday, January 15, 2004
  Image by Dave Spriggs ('64)
of VA - 01/15/04
Thanks, Dave!

My first recollection of What-a-Burger must have been in 1962, shortly after I got my driver's license.
When I first heard the name, it sounded like Water Burger, and, even as a naive young lad,
I thought that they won't sell many burgers with a name like that.
Soon, however, I learned the correct name and thought that it was a clever play on the exclamation,
"Wow, what a burger!"

We lived in New Market, and I remember my Mother sending me there
(Oh, Boy, a chance to drive Dad's car!!!) to buy hamburgers for supper.
(Ed. In the South, Suh, the evening meal is supper. Dinner is eaten at midday.
There is no such thing as lunch .... except, perhaps, far north of the Mason-Dixon Line ....
where it doesn't matter to US, anyway.)

Back then, the shop was located very near the northwest portion of the James River Circle in a very small drive-up box.
I will assume that any reader of this web site is old enough to remember the Circle,
before it was converted to an intersection.

My sense of buying burgers there was one of local elitism; I mean, everyone went to McDonald's,
but very few outside of the New Market area knew of What-a-Burger;
it was our neighborhood secret, and I meant to keep it that way.
And even better, the burgers were great ... after all, here I am still extolling
the virtues of the place, lo these 42 years later.
When the aforementioned conversion of James River Circle took place,
I was not living here, but assume that What-a-Burger was displaced as a result.
But those guys must have been keenly aware of their market niche and relocated
just up Jefferson Avenue to the building you see pictured here.
I sure wish that I had not been in a hurry that day and could have stopped in for a burger.
I am certain that they are still wonderful; otherwise such a small establishment could not survive.

- Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 01/19/04
Thanks, Dave!


May I share some fine memories of the little What-A-Burger that was a walk up window service type of restaurant
on Jefferson Avenue, near the traffic circle with Military Highway (later known as Mercury Boulevard)
when I worked for the Parks and Recreation Department for the City of Newport News.

Harry Knight was head of the Recreation Department, and was enthusiastic and hard working
and trying very diligently to improve the recreation system within the city.
He was improving the athletic fields, and installing bleachers for the fans who attended sporting events.
His wife was the sister to Bucky Keller ('58). She supported his long hours at the office and in the field.
Harry would have the Recreation Directors wearing two hats to control the tight budget,
in order to make the necessary facility improvements.
He would come by and check on us about lunchtime when we were performing this hard labor,
in his city-owned 1960 Ford Pickup Truck.

So, Ernie Shaffer, Jesse Kersey, and I would don our old work clothes and head out early in the mornings to work
at one of the athletic facilities before the World War II Memorial Recreation Center would open for the day.
Working outdoors really gave us a tremendous appetite.

One chilly morning, Jesse suggested to our "work gang" that we eat lunch at the "Water Burger".
Having just returned from my tour in the Marines, I did not know what he was talking about.
Seems that was the way he pronounced What-A-Burger, and sure enough we had lunch there that day.
And for many days thereafter, when we were working on the various fields, lunchtime would find us
at the "Water Burger" satisfying our hunger with those delicious hamburgers that were huge, and so very tasty.
A "Dashboard Buffet" in a 1950 Chevy Pickup.

Great food, great humor, and funny tales from Ernie Shaffer made those lunches unforgettable.
Harry Knight was always there when we were dining at the "Water Burger". And why not?

By the way, What-A-Burger is doing very well, and opening six restaurants
in Florida this year, one not too far away in Zephyrhills.
Wonder where I will be at lunch time?

- Joe Madagan ('57) of FL - 08/21/04
Many thanks, Joe!


I enjoyed reading the messages of Tom Oxner ('65) of AR and Fred Eubanks ('64) of TX in your recent Newsletter.
I admit my ignorance and had thought the Paul Branch What-A-Burger was a part of the Harmon Dobson chain of 
WHATABURGER restaurants. The trade names are styled very differently, which should have caused me to question if
they were a part of the same chain of restaurants. The Dobson chain recently opened a new location in nearby Zephyrhills,
Florida and that prompted me to send you the two photos. The Far-Flung TYPHOON solves another burning issue, and
educates this very senior TYPHOON. Now I am going back to Wendy's for my next burger since I am not supporting the
Paul Branch chain. It is lunch time as I write this message, and just the thought of a great burger has enhanced my appetite!

- Joe Madagan ('57) of FL - 03/28/05
Awww - thanks, Joe!


NOTE:
The Newport News What-A-Burger is not to be confused with the larger Whataburger chain:
THEN: NOW: SOON:
 
  The blank photo slot on the Whataburger page is just waiting for a TYPHOON to send you a photo of the former location. To give this page in our Old Stomping Grounds a little more color and to show everyone the newer logo and the latest design of their new restaurants, here are a couple.
  - Joe Madagan ('57) of FL - 03/23/05
Thanks, Joe!
The Whataburger logo sent to you by Joe Madagan
('57 of FL) is the logo of the Whataburger chain
of fast food restaurants.

The What-A-Burger on Jefferson (it used to be
by the ESSO station at the traffic circle;
it is now slightly further north on Jefferson)
was not and is not a part of the Whataburger chain.

The What-A-Burger on Jefferson was
the brainchild of Paul Branch.

From the photos in the What-A-Burger,
it also had locations in Richmond and in South Carolina.
I ate there just last week when I visited my sister
in Newport News during Spring Break.

I read the Joe Madagan ('57 - of FL) piece on What-A-Burger
and offer the following observations.
 
I too remember that Jefferson Avenue What-a-Burger (WAB) restaurant, and ate many a great hamburger there in the late 1960s.  Naturally
when I moved to San Antonio in 2003, and saw the many orange and white chalet roof-style WABs that populate the Alamo City,
I had to stop by for a burger.  After concluding that the San Antonio WABs reminded me a lot of the Newport News WABs I had
enjoyed almost 40 years earlier, as well as the striped, orange and white chalet-style roof, I began to wonder if they were one
and the same company.  I discovered that the San Antonio WABs belong to a company created by Harman Dobson in 1950.  He
apparently opened the first WAB in Corpus Christie, TX, in August
of that year.  I went to the WAB web site and read the
company history
(http://www.whataburger.com/wbstory.cfm  and http://www.whataburger.com/timeline50.cfm?timeline=50). 
I may have missed it, but I could nothing to indicate that the Dobson WAB chain ever had a restaurant in Newport News, or
in Virginia for that matter.  It appears they are located only in AZ, NM, TX, OK, AR, LA, MS, AL, GA and FL.  I guess Joe has
seen plenty of WABs in FL, they have 25 or 30 there.  I was certainly disappointed that I could find no confirmation the old NN
WAB was part of the original Harman Dobson chain.  However, I do remember they had great hamburgers, and my mind may be
playing tricks on me (Iím nearly 60 years old, you know), but I swear that old Jefferson Avenue What-a-Burger looked a lot like
the one in Joe Madaganís 03/24/05 Newsletter article. 
- Tom Oxner ('65) of AR - 03/24.05
Thanks, Tom!
- Fred Eubank ('64) of TX - 03/24/05
Thanks, Fred!

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Tried to amend my carnivorous habits
Made it nearly seventy days
Losin' weight without speed, eatin' sunflower seeds
Drinkin' lots of carrot juice and soakin' up rays

But at night I'd had these wonderful dreams
Some kind of sensuous treat
Not zuchinni, fettucini or bulghar wheat
But a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat

Chorus:
Cheeseburger in paradise (paradise)
Heaven on earth with an onion slice (paradise)
Not too particular not too precise (paradise)
I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise

Heard about the old time sailor men
They eat the same thing again and again
Warm beer and bread they said could raise the dead
Well it reminds me of the menu at a Holiday Inn

Times have changed for sailors these days
When I'm in port I get what I need
Not just Havanas or bananas or daiquiris
But that American creation on which I feed

Chorus:
Cheeseburger in paradise (paradise)
Medium rare with mustard 'be nice (paradise)
Heaven on earth with an onion slice (paradise)
I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise

I like mine with lettuce and tomato
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer
Well good God Almighty which way do I steer for my

Chorus:
Cheeseburger in paradise (paradise)
Makin' the best of every virtue and vice (paradise)
Worth every damn bit of sacrifice (paradise)
To get a cheeseburger in paradise
To be a cheeseburger in paradise
I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise

Coda:
I like mine with lettuce and tomato
Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes
Big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer
Well good God Almighty which way do I steer for my


"Cheeseburger in Paradise" midi courtesy of http://www.pishop.com/midis/buffett/CheeseburgerInParadise.mid,
at the suggestion of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 01/17/04
Thanks, Dave!

"Cheeseburger in Paradise" lyrics courtesy of http://www.fdu.com/cburgerlyrics.htm,
also at the suggestion of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 01/17/04
Thanks again, Dave!

Image of Cheeseburger courtesy of http://www.sandiegorestaurants.com/cuisine.cfm?cuisineid=30 - 01/19/04


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