Feltner’s Whatta-Burger at 1410 North Arkansas Avenue in Russellville (Pope County) is a venerable restaurant located across the street from Arkansas Tech University.
Bob Feltner was born on February 3, 1926, in Russellville, the son of Robert Feltner and Theda Herrin Feltner. He married Juanita Scroggin on November 6, 1948, and they had a son and two daughters. They first owned a restaurant called Wonder-Burger near the Arkansas Tech campus. After Feltner did an experiment by sitting in a lawn chair on the side of Arkansas Highway 7 and counting passing cars, he and his wife decided to open a new place in the more heavily traveled area directly across from Arkansas Tech.
Feltner’s Whatta-Burger opened for business on Thanksgiving Day in 1967, initially as a walk-up dairy bar with a patio beside it. Although business was steady, when other hamburger restaurants began opening in Russellville, the Feltners decided to expand their restaurant to accommodate seventy-one indoor diners along two aisles of booths. (Feltner’s Whatta-Burger is not associated with the 800-franchise-strong Whattaburger company founded in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1950.)
When the restaurant celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 1987, Bob Feltner rolled prices back to 1967 rates from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and planned a Thanksgiving feast for his current and former employees; he reserved 100 rooms at local motels for former workers coming from out of town. Feltner’s Whatta-Burger again rolled prices back to 1967 levels when it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2017, with regular burgers selling for twenty-five cents, specialty Whatta-Burgers for forty cents, and milkshakes for fifteen to thirty-five cents.
Whatta-Burger—which is eclectically decorated with toys, humorous plaques, and Arkansas Tech paraphernalia—has a unique service system. Patrons walk up to the counter and order their food and drink, with the order written on a white paper bag that then passes along an assembly line until the burger is complete. The burger meets the diner at the cash register, where fried pies can be ordered and the meal paid for, ensuring that customers are served in the order of their arrival. Portions are copious. One food writer described Feltner’s Whatta-Burger thusly: “In almost every city or town in America there is one local hangout that’s been around for ages and ages, the place you send out-of-towners to when you want to share a bit of your roots and culture. In Russellville, hands down, it’s Feltner’s Whatta-Burger. There is no other place that comes close.”
Bob Feltner died on March 30, 1997, at age seventy-one, and Juanita Feltner died September 29, 2015, at age eighty-seven. Their daughter Missy and her husband Randy Ellis took over operations at Whatta-Burger after Bob Feltner’s death, and they continue to run the restaurant in the twenty-first century.
Whatta-Burger was placed in the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame in 2021.
For additional information:
Davidson, Jim. “What Makes Feltner’s Special.” Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, March 12, 2000, p. 5B.
Feltner’s Whatta-Burger. https://whatta-burger.com/ (accessed November 14, 2022).
Obituary of Bob Feltner. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 1, 1997, p. 5B.
Obituary of Juanita Feltner. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 4, 2015, 2B.
Robinson, Kat. Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley. Charleston, SC: American Palate, 2013.
“Russellville Burger Joint Rolls Back Prices to 1967 for a Day.” Arkansas Democrat, November 26, 1987, p. 4D.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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