White Castle (restaurant)
|Founded||September 13, 1921|
Wichita, Kansas, U.S.
|Lisa Ingram (CEO)|
White Castle is an American regional hamburger restaurant chain with 377 locations across 13 states, with its greatest presence in the Midwest. It has been generally credited as the country's first fast-food chain. It is known for its small, square hamburgers. Sometimes referred to as "sliders", the burgers were initially priced at five cents until 1929 and remained at ten cents until 1949. In the 1940s, White Castle periodically ran promotional ads in local newspapers which contained coupons offering five burgers for ten cents, takeout only.
Walter Anderson (1880-1963) had been running food stands in Wichita since 1916 when he opened his first diner in a converted streetcar. After a second and third location, he was looking to open a fourth location when he met Billy Ingram and together they started the White Castle chain. White Castle was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas. Cook Walt A. Anderson partnered with insurance and real estate man Edgar Waldo "Billy" A. Ingram to make White Castle into a chain of restaurants and market the brand and its distinctive product. Anderson and Ingram started with only $700 for the original White Castle in Wichita, Kansas. The original location was the northwest corner of First and Main; the building is no longer standing. 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 they were creating. To invoke a feeling of cleanliness, their restaurants were small buildings with 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.
The earliest buildings, such as Indianapolis White Castle #3, built in 1927, had exteriors of white enamel-glazed brick and interiors of enameled steel. The Indianapolis unit was in operation until 1979, making it, at the time of its closure, the longest-operating fast food restaurant in the country. The company constructed this style of building from 1924 to 1929.
White Castle Building No. 8, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, originally built in 1936 and remodeled (photo in infobox above), is an example of the chain's buildings with prefabricated white porcelain enamel on steel exteriors. 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 the 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.
Since fast food was unknown in the United States at the time of White Castle's founding, 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 things that they did not do themselves were raise the cows and grow their own wheat. Ingram developed a device to produce previously unheard of paper hats. In 1932, Ingram set up a subsidiary, Paperlynen, to produce these hats and other paper products used in his 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 relocated 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. White Castle 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 of its restaurant sites. 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 (it was originally named The Hot Hamburger). The bulk of the material was contributed by company personnel and consisted mostly of letters and photographs of workers, promotional announcements, 25-year milestones, retirements, and similar items of interest 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 White Castle Official 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 Official House Organ.
Ingram's business savvy not only was responsible for White Castle's success but for the popularization of the hamburger.
In 1933, Anderson sold his half of the Business to Ingram, and the following year the company moved its corporate headquarters to Columbus, Ohio. 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 1959, White Castle expanded into new markets for the first time since the 1920s. Billy Ingram, who had retired to Miami in 1958, built three White Castle restaurants there. The company closed the Florida operations in 1967 due to inefficient supply distribution.
Throughout its existence, White Castle has been a private company and relied on company-owned stores. It remains privately held today, and its restaurants are all company owned; none are franchised.
In concurrence with its 80th anniversary in 2001, White Castle started its Cravers' Hall of Fame. "Cravers" are inducted annually based on stories written about them by another person or that the particular Craver submits for consideration. Between five and 10 stories have been chosen each year, with a grand total of 64 stories selected through the 2007 induction class. This represents less than 1% of the total stories submitted since the inception of the Cravers' Hall of Fame, an indication of the exclusivity of the honor.
Starting in 2011, a White Castle on Long Island has become a frequent setting for challenges on the show Impractical Jokers, during which the contestants pose as cashiers, drive-thru workers and janitors.
The Ingram family's steadfast refusal to franchise or take on debt throughout the company's existence has kept the chain relatively small, with a more discontinuous geography than its principal competitors. There are over 420 White Castle outlets, predominantly in the Midwest, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The exceptions are a significant smattering of outlets in the New York metropolitan region, three locations in Nevada, and two in Shanghai. By comparison, there are over 36,000 McDonald's locations globally, with approximately 14,000 of those in the United States. The chain does, however, sell frozen sliders at supermarkets nationwide, with availability varying by chain. Some locations are also cobranded with Church's Chicken.
Current White Castle markets include Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Dayton, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Louisville, Lexington, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Nashville, New York City/New Jersey/Pennsylvania, Phoenix and St. Louis. Louisville and Columbus also house bulk-manufacturing (grocery-store sales, meat and bun production) divisions. Company headquarters and the Porcelain Steel Buildings (PSB) division are in Columbus, Ohio. White Castle exited the Cleveland and Akron, Ohio markets effective December 25, 2014. 
The first White Castle in the far western United States opened at the Casino Royale Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip on January 27, 2015. This was the first expansion for White Castle into a different state in 56 years. On the first day of business, demand for food was so great that the restaurant had to temporarily close for two hours to restock. White Castle Vice President Jamie Richardson said that the store sold 4,000 sliders per hour in its first 12 hours. He was not aware of any similar closing because of demand in White Castle's 94-year history. A second White Castle location opened in Las Vegas on September 22, 2017, on Fremont Street. The first non-licensed White Castle location in the western United States is scheduled to open in Scottsdale, Arizona in late 2019.
In September 2015, White Castle began to offer Veggie Sliders with dairy-free buns to provide a vegan option.
In December 2015, White Castle announced that chief executive officer (CEO) E.W. “Bill” Ingram III would step down at the end of the year, but continue to be chairman of the board. His daughter, Lisa Ingram, then became the fourth CEO of the company.
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. A "Crave Crate" is also offered, with the contents being 100 burgers.
Around 2012, White Castle experimented with the Laughing Noodle brand that was to share space with a White Castle Restaurant. The Laughing Noodle concept was discarded a few years later. The Laughing Noodle brand was developed to offer supplemental variety to a White Castle Restaurant. At least one such location was constructed & operated in Sharonville, Ohio.
Although White Castle originated in Wichita, Kansas, the city has not had a branch since 1938, nor is there a White Castle restaurant in the entire state of Kansas. White Castle is one of the few restaurant chains that does not have a location in its original city. White Castle is also unusual in that their store locations include regions that are essentially significant exclaves to its primary area.
Countries formerly with White Castle
- Malaysia – 1989/90
- Japan – 1986
- South Korea – 1993/1994
- Hong Kong
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