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TAMPA, FL-Whataburger Restaurants LP, the Texas-based hamburger chain that sought to grow its brand in Florida over the past several years, will close 14 locations in central Florida effective May 31. The privately owned company cited lagging sales as a key factor in its decision.

The affected locations are in the Tampa Bay, Orlando, Ocala and Gainesville markets, while 38 Whataburger locations in northern Florida will remain with the 694-store national chain. The closing sites, which are owned and leased, will become available June 1.

“We’re going to start actively marketing those once the buildings are closed,” Pam Cox, group director of communications for Corpus Christi, TX-based Whataburger, tells GlobeSt.com. The typical 3,000-square-foot restaurants occupy roughly an acre in high-traffic areas, she says.

Cox notes that it is difficult to determine whether Whataburger failed to gain as much brand recognition in the Sunshine State as it has enjoyed since the 1950s in Texas, where its orange and white A-frame buildings are common landmarks. Newer chains such as Lorton, VA-based Five Guys Burgers and Fries have expanded aggressively within Florida in recent years.

A combination of underperforming sales and rising business costs are the key factors in the Whataburger closings, which affect about 400 employees. “We don’t take the decision to close these restaurants lightly,” Cox says.

Window signs have been placed in the 14 locations advising customers of this weekend’s pending closings. Patrons at one of the Tampa stores expressed remorse to employees during lunch service last Friday.

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