(INSIDE EDITION) When 94-year-old Hudson Collins passed away, the staff at his favorite Texas burger chain wanted to honor their most loyal customer.
"RIP Mr. Hudson," read their marquee, on the day of his funeral.
Every day for 15 years, the World War II veteran ate breakfast - and sometimes dinner - at the Whataburger restaurant on Loop 323 in Tyler.
Throughout the years, the staff rallied around the elderly widower, refusing to allow him to pay for his meals and even throwing him a Whataburger-themed 94th birthday party.
So after he passed away last week, they wanted him to know just how much he was loved.
His granddaughter, Paige Jones, told INSIDE EDITION she saw the marquee sign after everyone from the funeral service headed to the restaurant for a meal.
"We were pulling up in the limo... and I screamed 'look!'" she said. "The family started saying 'Wow! That's awesome! What a special touch. This is a great way to finish up today.'"
Whataburger picked up the tab.
Paige said her papa started eating there in 1999 when his wife of 54 years, Avinel Rose Collins, passed away.
"Our grandmother cooked for him every single day and took care of all the household chores, so once she passed, instead of cooking he went to Whataburger," she explained. "It was maybe five miles from his house so it was very convenient for him."
He would always eat the same meal: biscuits and gravy with three grape jellies and coffee. If he returned for dinner, he'd order a Whataburger junior meal with Dr. Pepper.
“He was very particular about his order,” Clay Russell, the director of operations for the Whataburger, told INSIDE EDITION. “He wanted exactly the same numbers of jellies – three – no more, no less.”
“He was a man of routine. He would speak to you if he liked you. If he didn’t, he would make it known,” he said, laughing.
Last October, after Hudson celebrated his 94th birthday at the restaurant, staff decided to stop charging him for his meals.
“It was the fact that he’s a staple of the restaurant,” Russell explained. “He’s a breakfast fixture. He’s just family. When your family has a birthday you want to share it with them.”
Over the years, the staff treated the elderly widower with incredible care, his granddaughter said.
"The staff knew exactly what he wanted. He never placed an order. They saw him coming and would say 'Hey Grandpa' and his order would be brought out," she said. "Once they found out he was in the hospital I got a few text messages from them asking how he was and if they could come visit him."
Hudson, who served in the Army Air Corps in World War II before working as a radio engineer at a local news station, passed away on January 22. He leaves behind two sons and two daughters-in-law, as well as three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The staff learned of his passing when his son came by the restaurant, Russell said. Hudson had only been absent from breakfast for a few days.
“It was like we lost a family member, like we lost a grandfather,” he said.
The marquee was Russell’s idea. “It wasn’t anything major, it was our way of letting the family know we cared for him deeply," he said.
Now the family wants the Whataburger staff to know just how much they are cared for, too.
"Words can't express how much they are appreciated by our family," Paige said. "There aren't many places who would do what they have done for him."
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