“We don’t have this in my country”: White Castle

It’s hard to think of a restaurant chain that’s been given a bigger free kick than White Castle got in 2004.

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle was basically 88 minutes of glorifying the titular burger chain and the THC-induced cravings that compel its customers to go there. But as White Castle has yet to make a successful leap overseas, or even outside the eastern half of the United States, it remains to be seen whether it justifies the hype bestowed upon it.

What is it?

A somewhat low-end fast food chain that specializes in ‘sliders’:

Why is it a big deal?

Watching Harold and Kumar you might think it’s the second coming (sample dialogue: “just thinking about those tender little White Castle burgers with those little, itty-bitty grilled onions that just explode in your mouth like flavor crystals every time you bite into one”), but it’s actually pretty gross.

It is, however, historic. According to the New York Times, “Few people seem to realize that White Castle was America’s original fast-food chain: its first outlet opened in 1921, 27 years ahead of McDonald’s. Indeed, White Castle was the key player in turning the hamburger into America’s national meal.”

What does it mean to Americans?

Cheaper than cheap fast food. At $7.12 with tax for a basic slider meal, it’s pretty easy on the wallet, but you’d have to be really craving it to actually enjoy the experience (read: high).

The company seems somewhat aware of its reputation too. Since 1994, the franchise’s slogan has been ‘What You Crave’. Feel free to purchase yourself the “steam-grilled-on-a-bed-of-onions scented candle”, which also bears this slogan, to induce or quell such cravings.

The fact that White Castle restaurants seems to be found almost exclusively in the rougher parts of town reinforces its reputation as being at the lower end of the fast food spectrum. David Gerard Hogan, author of a book about the company called Selling ‘Em by the Sack, acknowledges that the company has made a living by “marketing to the urban working class”.

“Their restaurants were located in areas that eventually became the urban underclass, which leads to a lowbrow profile,” he said.

As such, it attracts a colourful clientele. My visit to a Brooklyn location saw me thoroughly entertained, as the only other customer rankled with the staff for no apparent reason, shouting: “That’s right, n****r, total waste of time. You fat motherf****r!

Where might I have seen it?

Duh, Harold and Kumar. Where have you been, dude?

So what should I get?

Nothing. Walk out of the restaurant and go get yourself a burrito or something.

The meat on the sliders appears and tastes excessively processed and the bun ends up soggy and almost slimy. The fries are okay, but it’s near-impossible to screw up fries.

When can I get it back home?

The company has failed to successfully expand its reach overseas, with locations in Singapore, Malaysia and Japan no longer in existence.

The Times attributed the company’s relatively meagre growth to the founder’s “steadfast refusal to franchise or take on debt”. The company itself claims being family-run helps it “maintain the trailblazing attitude which made us the first fast-food hamburger chain.” Which is altogether quite meaningless.

But relax, you’re not missing out.