COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- To the trend of popular burger chains such as Jack in the Box and In-N-Out coming to Colorado Springs, you can now add Whataburger.
The Texas-based corporation, which started in 1950 and has at least 850 locations in 10 states, plans to open a restaurant before the end of the year in the InterQuest Marketplace retail development near Interstate 25 and Interquest Parkway -- not far from where the area's first In-N-Out restaurant recently opened.
The company said that decades ago, it had several stored in Denver but the coming Colorado Springs store will be the state's "first modern-era location."
This summer, Whataburger intends to renovate a vacant retail building on Constitution Avenue, just east of Powers Boulevard -- across the street from a second future In-N-Out store -- and open it as an employee training center.
The corporation will hire more than 100 people and is working on a website that will provide hiring information. Most of the hiring is expected to begin in early fall.
Whataburger isn't stopping with one Colorado location. A press release states that more locations, possibly including others in town and across the state, are being planned for next year.
The city's first Whataburger store and training center will be operated by BurgerWorks, a longtime franchisee that owns and oversees nine Whataburgers in Texas.
Whataburger stores are open 24 hours a day and are known for using never-frozen beef and a variety of menu items that include the popular Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit. Two varieties of ketchup also ate sold online and in many grocery stores in the Southwest.
BurgerWorks says it has planned since last year to expand into Colorado and that expansion isn't affected by In-N-Out or other competitors. Whataburger has also operated in Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma for years.
Whataburger is not to be confused with "What-A-Burger," a chain of restaurants in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. But the founders of Whataburger gave the chain its name because they wanted customers to enjoy its hamburgers so much that they'd exclaim,"What a burger!"
So many people have moved to Colorado Springs -- and continue to -- that burger chains regularly hear from residents who demand the same regional restaurants they loved back home.
But Tatiana Bailey, an economist at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, explains another reason why the area is so appealing to burger chains.
"It actually has more to do with the population growth and associated home values," she said. "Most people don't realize that what these companies are looking at, first and foremost, are home values -- which is really interesting. In the past three years, the average home price in El Paso County has increased $101,000. Normally it takes the average price 20 years to double but it happened here in 11 years."
Bailey said that Colorado's population growth rate is twice the national rate.
"That's going to accelerate in El Paso County," she said. "Data shows that during the pandemic, second-tier cities have done well. We also have a good mix of people and a lot of younger people. The cost of space isn't what it is in Denver. All of that benefits trendier places like Whataburger and In-N-Out. All of these companies have very sophisticated data systems they rely on to make decisions. They wouldn't come here if they didn't think it could work."
However, Bailey said that new burger chain stores could have a hard time finding enough workers -- a common problem for restaurant owners during the pandemic.
"That's a significant problem," she said. "And so is those employees being able to afford the high cost of living here."