Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson, owner of 12 East Texas Whataburger locations, poses for a photo with his award for Whataburger Franchisee of the Year.

Chris Johnson was recently named the Whataburger Franchisee of the Year at a conference in Houston in late March.

Johnson owns 12 locations in East Texas, including all three Lufkin locations. His father purchased the Timberland Drive location in 1985, and Johnson took the reigns in 2018.

The award was presented to Johnson at a dinner with several thousand Whataburger representatives. He was not aware of it until his name was called.

“It was quite the shock,” Johnson said. “I’m not used to the recognition. It’s humbling. I’m a little on the shy side — I don’t like the spotlight, but it feels good. It’s just validation that what you do every day is working.”

Johnson is the president of the franchise association, GVCS, the first franchisee to roll out online ordering. He believes that was one of the reasons he and his team were recognized.

“It’s not just about me; it’s about the full team,” he said. “We have roughly 350 employees working hard every day just trying to serve a good burger and customer service.”

The addition of online ordering took a toll on the team because of the immense change in systems and infrastructure, Johnson said.

“But we made it through it,” he said. “We’re live, and they’re hoping to have the whole system live by July.”

Working as a team and putting the customer first is Johnson’s leadership philosophy.

“You can’t do anything on your own; you’ve got to have a good team behind you, be a good leader and work well together,” Johnson said. “If it wasn’t for them working hard and delivering good results, I wouldn’t be recognized. So it is a team win, and it makes me feel good for the entire team because they’re just as proud as I am.”

Johnson’s father won franchisee of the year twice before, and it was neat to follow in his footsteps, Johnson said. His father is still a big part of the business, and having his father’s support is important to him, Johnson said.

“This is a family-owned business. Our company is G.V.C.S., and it stands for Glenn, Vicky, Chris and Stephanie,” he said. “We’re family-oriented. That’s what Whataburger the brand stands for, and that’s what we stand for.”

Johnson intends to keep moving the business forward. The next step is to open a store in Central Heights.

“We’re always looking for opportunities,” he said. “We believe in slow growth, finding the right opportunity, trying not to make any mistakes.”

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.

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