21 Crave-Worthy Facts About White Castle

Drew Angerer, Getty Images
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

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.


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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.


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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.'


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.'


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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.


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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.


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Thanksgiving will never be the same.

18. THEY MAKE CANDLES THAT SMELL LIKE SLIDERS.


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Fill your house with that steam-grilled-beef-atop-a-bed-of-onions aroma.

19. THEY HAVE CRAVE MOBILES.


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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.


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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.


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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.

The $13,000 Epiphany That Made Orville Redenbacher a National Popcorn King

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iStock.com/NoDerog

Happy National Popcorn Day! While you’re no doubt celebrating with a bowl of freshly popped, liberally buttered popcorn, here’s something else to digest: Orville Redenbacher originally called his product Red-Bow.

In 1951, Redenbacher and his partner, a fellow Purdue grad named Charlie Bowman, purchased the George F. Chester and Son seed corn plant in Boone Township, Indiana. Though Redenbacher’s background was in agronomy and plant genetics, he had dabbled in popcorn, and was friendly with the Chester family.

Eventually, Carl Hartman was brought in to experiment. In 1969, when the trio had developed a seed they felt really confident in, they went to market. They dubbed the product “Red-Bow,” a nod to “Redenbacher” and “Bowman.”

The product was a hit regionally, but by 1970, Bowman and Redenbacher were ready for a national audience and hired a Chicago advertising agency to advise them on branding strategy. At their first meeting, Redenbacher talked about popcorn for three hours. “Come back next week and we’ll have something for you,” he was told afterward.

The following week, he turned to the agency and was told that “Orville Redenbacher’s” was the perfect name for the fledgling popcorn brand. “Golly, no,” he said. “Redenbacher is such a ... funny name.” That was the point, they told him, and they must have made a convincing case for it, because Orville Redenbacher is the brand we know today—and the man himself is still a well-known spokesman more than 20 years after his death.

Still, Redenbacher wasn’t sure that the $13,000 fee the agency had charged was money well spent. “I drove back to Indiana wryly thinking we had paid $13,000 for someone to come up with the same name my mother had come up with when I was born,” Redenbacher later wrote.

Hungry for more Redenbacher? Take a look at the inventor at work in the vintage commercial below.

11 Secrets of Restaurant Servers

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iStock.com/andresr

If you enjoy eating at restaurants, it's worth getting to know the waitstaff. Servers are the face of the establishments where they work, and often the last people to handle your food before it reaches your table.

"People think it’s an easy job, and it’s really not," Alexis, a server who’s worked in the business for 30 years, tells Mental Floss. She says, jokingly, "You want a professional handling your food, because we have your life in our hands."

Even if they don't spit on your plate (which thankfully they almost never will), a waiter can shape your dining experience. We spoke with some seasoned professionals about how they deal with rude customers, what they wish more customers would do, and other secrets of the job.

1. Server pay varies greatly.

The minimum wage changes from state to state, but for tipped workers like servers, the difference in pay can be even more drastic depending on where you work. In over a dozen states, if a worker typically makes a certain amount per month in tips (often $20-$30), their employers are only required to pay them a minimum of $2.13 an hour. That’s how much Jeff, a video producer who’s held various jobs in the restaurant industry, made when serving tables in New Jersey. “Usually, if I had a full paycheck of serving I could just put a little bit of gas into the tank,” he tells Mental Floss.

Waiters and waitresses in many states rely almost entirely on tips to make a living—but that’s not the case everywhere. California, Oregon, and Washington each pay tipped employees minimum hourly wages over $10. Jon, who currently works at a casual fine dining restaurant in Portland, Oregon, gets $12 an hour from his employer. Including tips, he typically earns $230 a day before taxes, and brings home about $34,000 a year on a 25-hour work week.

2. They split up tips among the restaurant staff.

Here’s another reason to be generous with your tips: Whatever extra money you leave on the table may be going to more than one person. If you ordered a drink from the bar, or if there was anyone other than your server bringing your food and clearing it from the table, that tip will likely be split up. At one restaurant job, Jeff says he paid food expeditors (workers who run food from the kitchen to tables) 10 percent of whatever tips he earned.

3. Waiters and waitresses know how to handle rude customers.

In addition to taking orders and serving food, servers are often forced to de-escalate conflicts. For many people waiting tables, this means acting sweet and professional no matter how angry customers get. Jon’s strategy is to “treat them like a child, smile, tell them everything they want to hear and remind yourself that it’ll be over soon.” Similarly, Mike (not his real name), a server at a farm-to-table restaurant in Texas, likes to “kill them with kindness." He tells Mental Floss he tries to “be the bigger man and [not] return sour attitudes back to people who don’t treat me with respect. If nothing else I can hold my head high knowing I did my job to the best of my ability and didn’t let their negativity affect my day with other, more pleasant patrons.”

Alexis, who currently waits tables at a family-owned restaurant in California, goes beyond faking a smile and makes a point to practice empathy when serving rude guests. “There’s a hospital near my restaurant, and people come there for comfort food with hospital visitor stickers on their clothes all the time. And I know then that they’re going through something traumatic usually. So when people are acting badly, I put imaginary hospital stickers on their clothes and try to remove my ego.”

4. Your waiter (probably) won’t spit in your food.

While most servers have had to deal with a customer who treats them poorly, they rarely retaliate. On the old urban legend of servers spitting in their customer’s food, Alexis says, “Never seen anybody mess with anybody’s food out of spite or malicious intent. I’ve never seen it happen and I’ve never actually done it. I don’t need to get back at people like that.”

5. Servers do more than wait tables.

Most customers just see one aspect of a server's jobs. When they’re not refilling your drinks and bringing you condiments, they're doing side work—either before the restaurant opens, after the last guest leaves, or in between waiting tables. “It could be rolling silverware, filling sauces, cutting lemons, rotating salad bars, stuff like that,” Jeff says. “It’s not just serving and you leave; there’s usually something else behind the scenes that the server has to do.”

Alexis says that in addition to hosting and serving, she has to prep to-go orders, bus tables, and wash dishes. "We’re expected to be working every moment,” she says.

6. Waiters have some wild stories.

Though parts of the job are tedious, servers are bound to see interesting things. Alexis recalls a husband and wife who were regulars at the restaurant where she worked in the 1990s; the man was later arrested for murder. “I found out when a newspaper reporter started asking me questions about them,” she says. “I’m quoted on the front page of the LA Times as saying ‘A waitress in a local coffee shop said they were a nightmare!’”

Other stories are lighter. “When I worked at Red Robin there was a lady that came in every morning and would ask to sit in the same booth," Jon says. "She carried a bag [of] stuffed animals (mostly dragons) and situated them around the booth, always in the same spots, she’d talk to them throughout her dining experience.”

7. Waiters hate it when you don't know what you want.

The simplest way to get on your server’s good side is to know exactly what you want when you tell them you're ready to order. That means not wasting their time stalling as you speed-read the menu. If you haven't decided on a dish, let your server know and trust that they'll return to your table in a few minutes. “Don’t tell your server you’re ready to order if you’re not ready to order,” Alexis says. “I’m like ‘Come on, I know you’re not ready. I’m going someplace else and I’ll be back.’”

It also means not asking your server to make several trips to your table in the span of a few minutes. Mike says that customers asking for items one at a time is one of his biggest pet peeves. “[Customers will say] ‘I need salt. I need hot sauce. I need another [...] drink.’ I was away from the table for 30 seconds each time. Those requests could easily be fulfilled in one trip to the kitchen.”

8. Waiters hate when you ask to move tables.

Next time you get seated in a restaurant, think twice before asking your server to switch tables. Restaurants divide their floor plan into sections, and each server is responsible for a different group of tables. The hosts in charge of seating rotate these sections to distribute guests evenly to servers; by asking to move, you may be depriving one server of an hour’s worth of tips while creating extra work for a server who’s already swamped. According Jon, the worst time to complain about where you were seated is when a restaurant is busy: “Sometimes this isn’t a problem if we’re slow, but if it’s a Friday/Saturday chances are you were put there for a reason.”

9. Servers work when everyone else gets the day off.

Servers have to be prepared to work a different schedule every week, work late into the night, and work on weekends. This can make maintaining a normal social life challenging. “My schedule can be troublesome, my girlfriend/friends have the opposite schedule as me so I’m never able to make it out on weekends or holidays,” Jon says.

And on the days many 9-to-5 workers go out to celebrate, servers have to wait on them. “Where I currently work I have worked Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, New Years Day, and I will have to work on Mardi Gras (in the South),” Mike says. “I was leaving for work as my family arrived at my house for Christmas. I missed a New Years party in my house. If I hadn’t requested if off as soon as I began working there I’m almost certain I’d have to work 15 [hours] on my birthday.”

10. Your server might give you a free drink if you order it at the right time.

Asking your server for a free stuff likely won’t get you anywhere, but there is one thing you can do to possibly have a drink taken off your bill. If you wait until after your meal is served to order something cheap like a soft drink, Alexis says there’s a chance you won’t get charged for it all. “Not alcoholic drinks, but I’m talking about a cup of coffee or a soda or something like that, especially if you’re already paying for other beverages,” she says. “The server might get too busy or might not be inclined to go back to the POS [point of sale] system and add them on to your bill. It’s more trouble than it’s worth sometimes.”

11. Waiters want you to learn their names.

There’s a reason most servers introduce themselves before taking your order: They’d much rather you use their real names than a demeaning nickname. “Don’t call me sweetheart! I’m wearing a damn name tag,” Alexis says. “Sometimes I respond well, and other times no.”

And if your server doesn’t introduce themselves and isn’t wearing a name tag, Jon says it doesn’t hurt to ask. “Ask what the servers name is and refer them by name when you’re talking to them.” He says it’s “refreshing when a guest does this.”

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