Saturday, June 9, 2012

What a Couple!

From the Odessa American:

They’re known as Whataburger’s biggest fans.

At least, that’s what the orange and white T-shirts that Karl and Carol Hoepfner wore had printed as they sat down for breakfast Tuesday morning at the Whataburger restaurant on East Eighth Street.

The couple’s morning stop was No. 671, Karl Hoepfner said, on their trip to visit the chain’s 735 stores in 10 states. Stops No. 672 and 673 were to come later Tuesday as the couple visited the locations on Andrews Highway — Whataburger’s first ever A-frame restaurant — and East 42nd Street.

Traveling in their van full of Whataburger memorabilia that they’ve collected since their trip began, the Rockport, Texas, couple and retired U.S. Army master sergeants have been checking in at every store since starting their journey April 2011. To document their trip, the couple has been putting their receipts from the restaurants and other items, such as postcards and pictures, in different three-ring binders to document their trip.

Stores have also been giving up their plastic order number bearing the couple’s permanently assigned waiting number: 13.

“In our hometown, you can’t even get that number,” Karl Hoepfner, 75, said.

Earning the title “biggest fans” happened in November 2010 after an essay contest from Whataburger was brought to Karl’s attention asking people for submissions on why they felt were the organizations biggest fan A published author, Karl Hoepfner said he submitted a 400 word essay about the couple’s first trip to Whataburger in San Angelo in 1963 while the two were still in the Air Force and how Carol and himself have had visited Whataburger restaurants at least 7,000 times since then.

“We’ve been all over the world and we haven’t tasted a better burger,” Karl Hoepfner said.

The trip to visit all the stores started in April 2011 after Carol, 73, was diagnosed with eye cancer and underwent 17 treatments in 23 nights in Houston, her husband said. Karl Hoepfner also said his wife’s cancer is in remission and she has a hard time seeing.

The couple then decided to visit each store in the Houston area, 90 in total, and decided to visit them all. Karl Hoepfner said the company didn’t start taking notice until their 200th stop.

“I just enjoy seeing the people and talking to them,” Carol Hoepfner said.

A meal for the couple usually consists of their favorites, a Whataburger for Karl and a Justaburger — a Whataburger Jr. with only mustard, pickles and onions — for Carol Hoepfner. Carol also said she likes the organization’s chicken strips.

To keep from gaining weight from the large amount of Whataburger the couple consumes, the couple tries to avoid items things such as onion rings while ordering. Karl Hoepfner also said the couple walks all the time and he rides his bike at least once a day. His wife however, has an easier time keeping weight off then him.

“She weighed 113 pounds when I met her and she hasn’t changed since,” Karl Hoepfner joked.

Karl Hoepfner also said the company was big on giving back to the community, citing the work the Whataburger Family Foundation did after Katrina, and he and his wife try to do the same.

Winning $8,000 after his essay was picked by Whataburger, The Hoepfners decided to send $7,000 back and got 1,000 $7 gift cards instead. The couple then handed out their gift cards to help feed homeless people. Karl Hoepfner said it took them about a year before they finally ran out of cards.

The couple’s next stop will be in Midland and then move on to the Dallas area June 23, Karl Hoepfner said. After that, the couple plans on taking a cruise to Alaska for their 55th anniversary.

Karl Hoepfner also said he has a book in mind about the experience and plans to titled it after the license plates on their vehicle, “MSGTS 2.”

“It’s all about our life in the service and our trips,” Karl Hoepfner said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

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