• Wed. Oct 5th, 2022

FT Reporters is testing 3 burger franchises | Times Undercover Franchise

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Aug 29, 2022

From left to right, A&W’s burgers evoke nostalgia, while Sonic has work to do on his melted cheese game and Whataburger could use a refresh.

A road trip from Chicago to central Wisconsin seemed to call for a stop at A&W. The concept dates back to 1919, when Roy Allen set up a roadside drinks stand to offer a thick, creamy new drink, root beer, during a parade honoring First World War veterans in Lodi, California, as Wikipedia says. He and employee-turned-business partner Frank Wright—hence A&W—opened their first restaurant in Sacramento, California, in 1923. A&W’s heritage of building restaurants away from big, bad cities has made it well served during the pandemic. My stop near Portage on a scenic drive by sparkling lakes took me back to my youth (or at least back when gas was cheaper, but still $4.99 a gallon in Wisconsin, compared to $7 in Chicago). Papa Burger, $5.99, was made with 100% American beef, the sign says boldly, and tasted like it always has, which is the point at the 100-plus-year-old chain. A server even brought me my meal. “You came to my house, so I’ll bring it to you,” she said happily.

The result : “Proud to be All-American” is the A&W slogan, and the meal tasted of pure nostalgia. -BE

Cheese is an essential part of a cheeseburger – it’s right there in the name. And the cheese also needs to be melted, to the point where it’s gooey and slides down the patty. Imagine my sadness when, after unpacking my order at Sonic Drive-In, I found the cheese still firmly in its original rectangular shape. To get the full Sonic burger experience, I had the regular cheeseburger ($5.69) and the deluxe version, the SuperSonic Double Cheeseburger ($7.19). In both cases, the cheese was not melted at all. Not even a little. It also didn’t help that the burgers didn’t have signature sauces. Wanting to look on the bright side, it should be noted that the other ingredients, such as tomatoes and pickles, were nice additions and tasted fresh. The ease of ordering from one of Sonic’s stalls is also appreciated, and a friendly catering courier delivered my order directly to my car.

The result : While I might look elsewhere the next time I crave a solid burger with melty toppings, Sonic scores points for providing a place to park, eat lunch, and relax in the car while listening to a podcast or music. —ML

Beware of the hype. Texans love to brag about everything, and their beloved burger brand is no exception. “You never tried whataburger? You have to go,” insisted the Uber driver in Austin, one of many to comment on my failure so far to pay homage to the great orange-and-white burger god. A blasphemy charge is likely to come, but after all that buildup, my Whataburger experience was decidedly disappointing. The restaurant near the University of Texas campus was buzzing at lunchtime on a Wednesday, and while there was nothing wrong with #5, a bacon and cheese Whataburger with fries and a drink for $9.46, it didn’t live up to expectations. Also, what’s up with the cheesy nonsense on the bottom? The fries, on the other hand, were truly phenomenal. Hot, crispy and perfectly salted, they were gone in minutes, while the lukewarm leftover burger met a sadder fate in the trash.

The result : Whataburger has a lot going for it with seven decades of business. If the brand, which is growing its franchise footprint, makes it to Minnesota, I’d be happy to give it another shot. —LM

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