Company Of
The Month

White Castle

History

The most influential burger of all time, as it was dubbed by Time® Magazine, got its start in 1921 when Billy Ingram used $700 to launch an idea – the first fast food hamburger chain in the world. While the iconic Original Slider® hasn’t changed much in 99 years, the business certainly has. Today, White Castle boasts a nationwide community of “Cravers” generating over $700 million in revenue in 2019. 

Innovations like the Crave Case, online ordering, and the Impossible Slider have helped White Castle propel its continued success. Headquartered in Columbus, OH, the company has grown to over 400 locations across the U.S. while maintaining its family-owned principles and leadership. 


One of the first White Castle locations in Wichita, Kansas.


Purpose Driven

White Castle’s mission to feed the souls of Craver generations everywhere permeates its history and sets the foundation for the culture of caring and hospitality that the company seeks to instill in every employee at every level. In both corporate and restaurant locations, employees are recognized and celebrated to help create memorable moments for customers and team members alike. 

White Castle authenticates this mission through great benefits. The firm provided health insurance for its employees starting back in 1924, and today offers flexible work schedules, a weekly paycheck for everyone, a generous holiday bonus based on tenure, and much more. Through institutional practices, along with thoughtful gestures such a free food for employees during their shift, White Castle has worked to create a sense of community among its workforce. They even have a 25-year club for employees across the country, flying in honorees each year for an induction ceremony and weekend of festivities, as well as a scholarship program which provides 30-35 scholarships for children or grandchildren of employees. The results have been long term financial success, but also greater engagement scores from team members compared to the industry.

Members of White Castle's team at the grand opening of a Scottsdale, AZ location in fall 2019.

Competing in QSR

The firm leverages its culture and makes strategic tradeoffs in order to differentiate itself in the increasingly competitive QSR space. The smaller geographic footprint is purposeful. White Castle currently operates in 14 states and the company has taken time to develop real relationships with the neighborhoods in which each location operates. They use a different cooking process in order to create the distinctive taste of its sliders and have found success in the consumer packaged goods arena, which accounts for an average of 25% of the company’s sales. The classic White Castle Cheese Sliders and newer, Jalapeno Cheese Sliders do particularly well competing in the freezer aisle at retail, an area where few other QSRs are finding success.

White Castle is also known for, and uses, the irreverence of its brand to meaningful engage with consumers. While it never takes for granted the love people have for their food and the quality of the food it produces, the public doesn’t have to go far for fun examples like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. The firm also displays a Cravers Hall of Fame online and in its corporate offices, which typically inducts honorees in February for their devotion to White Castle. Storied legends of the Hall of Fame include Walter Buttkus, now a venture capitalist in California, who bases his travel plans to include cities where White Castle can serve him a Slider. He’s even taken a private jet to Vegas just to acquire a Crave Case and fly home, and had an Indian motorcycle refurbished into a Crave Cruiser complete with Crave Case saddle bags. 

One of the biggest challenges White Castle and other competitors in the industry face is the recent advent of delivery services. White Castle currently works with almost all delivery offerings, but it continues to explore profitable avenues with which to pursue this new business model. 

The Future

Middle Market executives can learn from the singular mission that’s propelled White Castle’s achievement for nearly 100 years. The restaurant has charted its path around that mission, and successfully invited both employees and customers to be part of that journey. 

Now in its fourth generation of family ownership, Billy’s great-granddaughter Lisa Ingram has led company expansion in Vegas, Arizona, and four restaurants in China. The company is seeing continued growth in the retail space with a lot of momentum heading into its 100th Anniversary. 

White Castle's new home office, unveiled in 2019.