The history of White Castle is fascinating. White Castle has been around forever! Ok, maybe not forever, but they have been around for a long long time. In fact, White Castle is the nation’s oldest burger chain. You heard that correctly. White Castle is older than Burger King, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, In-N-Out and others. White Castle got its start in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas. On today’s show we are going to talk all about what they have done to have tremendous longevity.
Food Memories Anyone?
Maybe you have some amazing food memories of eating at White Castle. You might have grown up eating some crazy good cooking from Mom or Grandma. Perhaps your family has an interesting recipe that has been handed down through the years. Whatever your memory is, I want to hear about it. Email me at toastykettle.com and I will either have you come on the show and share it or read your story on air.
The History of White Castle
In 1916 in Wichita, Kansas, Walter Anderson started a diner he converted from a streetcar. The diner was successful and Walter opened a second and a third location. He was looking to start his fourth location when he met Billy Ingram.
Billy Ingram was a real estate broker who fell in love with Walter Anderson’s concept. However, in order for the concept to really take off, they had to change a culture and convince people that fast food was a winner.
In this new venture, Walter Anderson was the cook and Billy Ingram was tasked with marketing the brand. They started the first White Castle location with only $700. The very first White Castle opened on the northwest corner of first and main in Wichita. The original building is no longer standing.
In 1921, enough people were still reeling from Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, which was published in 1906. I don’t know how many of you have read this book, but it was horrific. I read it several years ago and it paints a detailed picture of the meat industry at the turn of the century. Understandably, people didn’t quite trust hamburger meat.
White Castle sought to change that. When they started opening locations, the buildings were white outside. Inside they were stainless steel and employees wore spotless white uniforms. Anderson and Ingram did everything they could to portray cleanliness in their image.
This seemed to work well. White Castle was a smash hit and created a loyal following. The restaurants did so well, they quickly looked to expand operations to more midwest locations.
Continued Innovation, Growth and Expansion
White Castle is a family owned business. They have always avoided debt and expand incredibly slow, similar to In-N-Out. However, they have also been able to successfully develop a cult-like following through the years. Walter Anderson is credited with inventing the hamburger bun, as well as the assembly line fast food kitchen.
In 1954 Earl Howell, a White Castle employee, discovered if you poked holes in the patty it would cook faster. These burgers are steamed on a pile of grated onion. Instead of grilling on a flat top or grill. The holes allow the steam to escape more efficiently and perfume more of the meat with the delightful onion aroma. Yum!
A lot of the innovations White Castle made, were adopted later by other fast food companies. It’s no wonder that in 2014 Time Magazine called White Castle the most influential burger of all time.
Today you can stop in one of 420 locations to get your slider fix. You can also visit the freezer food section of your local grocer and likely find a box of sliders. If you have any interesting White Castle experiences, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear all about it.
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