White Castle (restaurant)
"What You Crave"
|Founded||September 13, 1921
|Headquarters||Columbus, Ohio, U.S.|
|Key people||Billy Ingram (founder)
Walter Anderson (founder)
E.W. Ingram III (CEO)
|Products||Fast food, including hamburgers, french fries, onion rings, and dairy desserts|
White Castle is an American regional fast food hamburger restaurant chain in the Midwestern United States and in the New York metropolitan area, generally credited as the first fast food chain. It is known for its small, square hamburgers. Sometimes referred to as "sliders", the burgers were priced at five cents until the 1940s, and remained at ten cents for years thereafter. For several years, when the original burgers sold for five cents, White Castle periodically ran promotional ads in local newspapers which contained coupons offering five burgers for ten cents, takeout only.
White Castle was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas. The original location was the NW corner of First and Main. Cook Walt A. Anderson partnered with insurance man Edgar Waldo "Billy" A. Ingram to make White Castle into a chain of restaurants and market White Castle. At the time, Americans were hesitant to eat ground beef after Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle had publicized the poor sanitation practices of the meat packing industry. The founders set out to change the public's perception of the cleanliness of the industry. To invoke a feeling of cleanliness, their restaurants were small buildings with white porcelain enamel on steel exteriors, stainless steel interiors, and employees outfitted with spotless uniforms. Their first restaurants in Wichita, Kansas, were a success, and the company branched out into other Midwestern markets, starting in 1922 with El Dorado, Kansas. White Castle Building No. 8, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, originally built in 1936 and remodeled (photo, right), was an example of the chain's prefabricated porcelain buildings. The building measured 28 feet (8.5 m) by 28 feet (8.5 m) and was made to resemble the Chicago Water Tower, with octagonal buttresses, crenelated towers, and a parapet wall.
The success of White Castle led to numerous imitators. Restaurants copied the distinctive architecture of White Castle buildings, as well as created confusion for consumers by using a similar name. The first of these imitators in Wichita was Little Kastle. Many competitors created their names with a play on the White Castle name. Some restaurant chains just replaced the word "Castle" with their own word (Cabin, Cap, Clock, Crescent, Diamond, Dome, Fortress, Grille, House, Hut, Kitchen, Knight, Log, Manna, Mill, Palace, Plaza, Shop, Spot, Tavern, Tower, Turret, Wonder), while others chose to replace "White" with another (Blue, King's, Little, Magic, Modern, Prince's, Red, Royal, Silver). Some of the other imitators included Castle Blanca, Blue Beacon, Blue Bell, Blue Tower, Red Barn, Red Lantern and Klover Kastle. Despite all the competition, none of the competitors were able to match the success of White Castle.
Anderson is credited with invention of the hamburger bun as well as "the kitchen as assembly line, and the cook as infinitely replaceable technician," hence giving rise to the modern fast food phenomenon. Due to White Castle's innovation of having chain-wide standardized methods, customers could be sure that they would receive the same product and service in every White Castle restaurant. As Henry Ford did for car manufacturing, Anderson and Ingram did for the making of burgers.
Anderson developed an efficient method for cooking hamburgers, using freshly ground beef and fresh onions. The ground beef was formed into balls by machine, 18 to a pound, or 40 per kilogram. The balls were placed upon a hot grill and topped with a handful of fresh, thinly shredded onion. Then they were flipped so that the onion was under the ball. The ball was then squashed down, turning the ball into a very thin patty. The bottom of the bun was then placed atop the cooking patty with the other half of the bun on top of that so that the juices and steam from the beef and the onion would permeate the bun. After grilling, a slice of dill pickle was inserted before serving. Management decreed that any condiments, such as ketchup or mustard, were to be added by the customer. Anderson's method is not in use by the chain today, having changed when the company switched from using fresh beef and fresh onion to small, frozen square patties (originally supplied by Swift & Company) which are cooked atop a bed of rehydrated onions laid out on a grill. The heat and steam rise up from the grill, through the onions. In 1951, five holes in the patty were added to facilitate quick and thorough cooking. The very thin patties are not flipped throughout this process.
Since fast food was unknown in the United States in that era, there was no infrastructure to support the business, as is common with today's fast food restaurants. The company established centralized bakeries, meat supply plants, and warehouses to supply itself. It was said that the only thing they did not do themselves was raise the cows and grow their own wheat. Ingram developed a machine to create previously unheard of paper hats. In 1932, Ingram set up a subsidiary, Paperlynen, to make these hats and other paper products used in their own restaurants as well as for many other purposes. At the time, White Castle's distribution stretched from Wichita to New York. Ingram decided the central office should be in the center of the distribution area. To accommodate this, in 1936 the central office was moved to Columbus, Ohio. In the same year, Ingram decided to close all of the restaurants in the two smallest profit markets (Wichita and Omaha). In 1955, Paperlynen produced over 42 million paper hats worldwide with more than 25,000 different inscriptions. They also created a subsidiary in 1934 named Porcelain Steel Buildings that manufactured movable, prefabricated, steel frame structures with porcelain enamel interior and exterior panels that could be assembled at any White Castle restaurant site. This is the first known use of this material in a building design.
The company also began publishing its own internal employee magazine, the White Castle Official House Organ, circa November 1925 (originally named The Hot Hamburger). The bulk of the material was contributed by Castle personnel, mostly letters and photographs of workers, promotional announcements, 25-year milestones, and retirements, etc., arranged by geographic area. "Employees could...read about the progress and innovations made by those in other areas which made everyone aware of the entire system's direction and condition." The House Organ was published quarterly at least through the early 1980s, and at some point was renamed The Slider Times. The Ohio Historical Society houses an extensive archive of White Castle System, Inc. records from 1921–1991, including issues dating from 1927 to 1970 of the White Castle House Organ.
Ingram's business savvy not only was responsible for White Castle's success, but for the popularization of the hamburger.
In 1933, Ingram bought out Anderson, and the following year the company moved its corporate headquarters to Columbus, Ohio. The company remains privately held and its restaurants are company-owned; they are not franchised in the United States. Co-founder Billy Ingram was followed as head of the firm by his son E. W. Ingram, Jr. and grandson E. W. Ingram, III.
In concurrence with its 80th anniversary in 2001, White Castle started its Cravers' Hall of Fame. "Cravers" are inducted annually based on stories that are submitted about them, either for them by another person or by that particular Craver. Between five and ten stories have been chosen each year with a grand total of 64 stories being selected through the 2007 induction class, less than 1% of the total stories submitted since the inception of the Cravers' Hall of Fame.
Ingram's steadfast refusal to franchise or take on debt resulted in the chain remaining relatively small, with a very discontinuous geography compared to most chains. There are over 420 White Castle outlets, all in the United States and specifically in the Midwest and Tennessee, except for a significant discontinuous smattering of outlets in the New York metropolitan region, compared with about 32,000 McDonald's. The chain does, however, sell frozen sliders inside supermarkets nationwide, with availability varying by chain. Some locations are also cobranded with Church's Chicken.
White Castle also markets its sandwiches in 30-hamburger boxes, called a Crave Case. The figure of 30 burgers represents the number that can be produced on one of its standard grills at the same time. In some stores, a "Crave Crate" is offered, with the contents being 100 burgers.
In 2003, White Castle unveiled a new logo, but has been promoting the slogan "What You Crave" since 1994.
Typically, the breakfast menu is available from midnight until 11:00 AM, but some stores have attempted to boost overnight sales and start breakfast service as early as midnight. The regular menu is available 24 hours a day. However, some restaurants have started closing at 1:00 AM on weeknights and only staying open all night on Friday and Saturday.
Although White Castle originated in Wichita, Kansas, the city no longer has one, nor is there a White Castle restaurant in the entire state of Kansas. White Castle is one of the few restaurant chains that doesn't have a location in its original city, but residents are currently trying to bring the chain back to Wichita. They are also unusual in that their store locations includes a region that is essentially a significant "exclave" to its primary area, that being its many stores in metropolitan New York City when all of their other stores are hundreds of miles away in the Midwest and Upper South.
Countries formerly with White Castle
- White Tower
- White Castle Building No. 8 – A historic White Castle located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Little Tavern
- Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
- "White Castle Management Co.: CEO and Executives". Businessweek. Retrieved 2013-03-11.
- "White Castle marks 90th anniversary with one-day return to Wichita". Wichita Eagle. May 12, 2011. Retrieved 2012-05-13.
- Gardner, Denis P. (2004). Minnesota Treasures: Stories Behind the State's Historic Places. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society. ISBN 0-87351-471-8.
- "American Eats: History on a Bun". 20 March 2009.
- "Hamburgers in History", BBC, May 16th, 2003
- "The Bite", The Economist, April 24th 2008
- "Chain Reaction", Saveur Magazine, September 2009
- Time Magazine, Sept.3, 1956 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,824380,00.html
- "History and Heritage of White Castle". White Castle Official House Organ 51 (1). Spring, 1975. p. 20
- "White Castle System, Inc. Records, 1921-1991". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
- Hogan, David Gerard (1997). Selling 'em by the Sack: White Castle and the Creation of American Food (First ed.). NYU Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-8147-3567-3. Retrieved 2008-06-04.
- Gramig, Mickey H. (2006-11). "White Castle, Churchs Chicken to Share Restaurant Sites". Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. Retrieved 2009-02-03. [dead link]
- "Crave Crate Challenge", Gaia Online
- "White Castle to offer Valentine's Day dinners". Chicago Daily Herald. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
- Official White Castle web site
- Official White Castle fan site
- White Castle Twitter Page
- White Castle Facebook Page
- White Castle YouTube Channel
- Walt Anderson Co-Founder, Grave