21 Crave-Worthy Facts About White Castle
It’s the original fast-food restaurant—the purveyor of tiny burgers with an outsized appeal known simply as "The Crave." White Castle may not be the largest burger chain, but it arguably has the most devoted following, with fans writing songs, directing movies, getting married inside restaurants, and carting their sliders all over the world. Not bad for an operation that began as a single hamburger stand in Wichita about 100 years ago.
1. THE FOUNDER INVENTED THE MODERN HAMBURGER.
Walt Anderson, a short-order cook in Wichita, Kansas, liked to experiment with the size and shape of the hamburger patties he served. His greatest invention, though, was said to be an accident: One day Anderson became so frustrated with how his meatballs were sticking to the griddle that he smashed one with a spatula. And thus, the flat patty was born.
2. ANDERSON ALSO PIONEERED FAST FOOD IN AMERICA.
In 1916, Anderson opened a hamburger stand with an $80 loan and quickly expanded to four locations. W.E. "Billy" Ingram, a local real estate broker who would eventually become the company's CEO, bought in, and in 1921 they established a chain of small, efficiently run restaurants selling 5-cent burgers by the sack. White Castle is widely credited as the first fast-food concept in America.
3. EVEN IN 1916, PEOPLE HAD 'THE CRAVE.'
According to David G. Hogan's Selling 'Em by the Sack, while working at his original burger stand Anderson noticed several young boys who regularly bought sacks of hamburgers. Thinking this odd, he decided to investigate and followed a young patron as he walked down the street, around the corner, and made a delivery into the open door of a limousine.
4. THE NAME WAS MEANT TO COUNTER THE BAD RAP HAMBURGERS HAD AT THE TIME.
Exposés like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and commentary like Frederick J. Schlink's Eat, Drink and Be Wary portrayed hamburger beef as unsafe, if not downright poisonous. To give their burgers a pristine image, Ingram and Anderson combined two words that together conveyed purity and solidity: White Castle.
5. THE DESIGN WAS INSPIRED BY THE CHICAGO WATER TOWER.
The Windy City landmark, which was one of the few buildings that survived the great fire of 1871, was a model for White Castle's turret-and-tower design.
6. THE COMPANY HAD SIDE BUSINESSES MAKING THEIR OWN BUILDINGS AND PAPER HATS.
Ingram wanted his restaurants to be small, inexpensive, and quick to build and take down. So in 1934 he started his own subsidiary, Porcelain Steel Buildings, to make the lightweight porcelain-and-steel structures. During World War II, PSB did its part by manufacturing amphibious vehicles. The company also bought manufacturer Paperlynen in 1932 to make the paper hats employees wore—because why not? Realizing it had a profitable business on its hands, White Castle started taking orders from other foodservice establishments, and by 1964 was selling more than 54 million caps annually.
7. TODAY'S SLIDER HASN'T DEVIATED MUCH FROM THE ORIGINAL RECIPE.
Anderson's original hamburger involved cooking a small beef patty over shredded onions, then sliding it onto a bun instead of between slices of bread. About 100 years later, not much has changed.
8. CEO BILLY INGRAM MADE FLIPPING BURGERS A DESIRABLE JOB.
Fast food wages today are so low they've spurred a national movement, but back in the day, flipping burgers at White Castle was a coveted job. Ingram paid employees between $18 and $30 a week—quite a lot in those days, especially for restaurant work—and offered paid sick days, pension plans, and regular opportunities for promotion.
9. HE ALSO HAD EXACTING STANDARDS FOR WORKERS.
Employees, who each underwent a two-week unpaid apprenticeship, were expected to wear clean white clothes, keep their hair short, and be unfailingly courteous to customers. They also (at least in the company's earliest days) had to be men between the ages of 18 and 24.
10. THE COMPANY PUT OUT A NEWSLETTER CALLED THE HOT HAMBURGER.
It included jokes, short stories, and sales advice—like how to convince customers a slice of pie is just what they need after gorging themselves on hamburgers.
11. INGRAM FUNDED "SCIENTIFIC" RESEARCH TO PROVE THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF ITS BURGERS.
Intent on proving that his burgers were not just safe to eat but healthy, too, Ingram funded some rather dubious studies. The best one involved a University of Minnesota med student eating nothing but White Castle burgers for 13 weeks straight. He remained healthy in body, if not in spirit.
12. THEY HAD A PROGRAM THAT DELIVERED FROZEN BURGERS ANYWHERE IN THE U.S. WITHIN 24 HOURS.
If you had a craving in the mid-'80s and no White Castle nearby, you could call a toll free number and get frozen sliders delivered to your doorstep. The "Hamburgers to Fly" program was such a success for the company that it paved the way for its line of frozen foods.
13. KUMAR OF HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE WAS A VEGETARIAN.
The 2004 buddy movie boosted sales of White Castle's sliders, but co-star Kal Penn never actually ate one due to his vegetarian diet. So crew members created meatless substitutes instead. Today, White Castle sells its own veggie sliders.
14. WHITE CASTLE HAS INSPIRED MUSICIANS.
Several songs by the Beastie Boys reference White Castle (including helpful information, like "White Castle fries only come in one size"). There’s also "White Castle Blues" by '80s band the Smithereens.
15. THEY HAVE A 'CRAVER HALL OF FAME.'
To honor its most devoted diners, the company established its hall of fame in 2001. Recent inductees include an Army soldier who took 50 sliders all the way to Germany, and a couple who collectively lost 200 pounds eating sliders. Alice Cooper is in there too—according to White Castle, Cooper became a fan during his childhood in Detroit, and "The Crave stayed with him throughout his career and he based tour dates and concerts around the locations of White Castle restaurants."
16. THEY GET ROMANTIC FOR VALENTINE'S DAY.
Nothing says love like a shared stack of sliders. Locations take reservations weeks in advance and offer table service. In 2015, more than 35,000 customers made it a date.
17. THERE'S A STUFFING RECIPE THAT USES CHOPPED-UP SLIDERS.
Thanksgiving will never be the same.
18. THEY MAKE CANDLES THAT SMELL LIKE SLIDERS.
Fill your house with that steam-grilled-beef-atop-a-bed-of-onions aroma.
19. THEY HAVE CRAVE MOBILES.
Despite having nearly 400 locations, White Castle only operates in 13 states. To feed the crave for those who live in Castle-less areas, the company dispatches mobile restaurants called Crave Mobiles. One 2015 stop in Orlando saw more than 10,000 sliders sold.
20. THEIR CEO WORKS BEHIND THE COUNTER FROM TIME TO TIME.
According to an interview with Columbus CEO, Lisa Ingram, White Castle's current CEO and great-granddaughter of Billy Ingram, will occasionally sling burgers at a restaurant near the company's Columbus, Ohio headquarters. Multiple fourth- and fifth-generation Ingrams still work in the family business.
21. THEIR LAS VEGAS OPENING WAS A MADHOUSE.
When a White Castle opened on the Las Vegas strip in January 2015, demand was so high that the location ran out of food and had to close for two hours to restock. Which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the next closest Castle was 1500 miles away, in Missouri. The crave truly is a powerful thing. Since then, one more location has opened in downtown Las Vegas, and a third is set to open in Jean, Nevada, near the border between Nevada and California. Nevada remains the only state west of Missouri to have any White Castle restaurants.
This story originally ran in 2016.