It must have been on about turn two of the giant, spiraling metal slide that spills out thrill-seeking visitors just next to the receptionist desk at White Castle’s new headquarters, that I began to appreciate the breadth and depth of the evolutionary marketing and promotional efforts of the company, which is celebrating 100 years in business this year. Just minutes before I took the plunge, during an interview with Jamie Richardson, vice president of marketing and public relations, Richardson shared with me the mission of White Castle: “To create memorable moments.” I was proud to have been a human slider and a microscopic part of the company’s carefully curated image. I, and likely thousands of other visitors to the company’s home office, have been the recipient of one of those memorable moments by corkscrewing down the slide...and I loved it.
I assume the ideal memorable moments involve family and friends enjoying their sliders at a White Castle restaurant or at the dinner table, but the company also has marketed itself so that it’s making memories possible through philanthropy, employee activities, community service and customer interaction.
Based on my visit and tour of the company’s home office and one of its meat plants, the culture of the company on the inside didn’t appear to be drastically different from the image it projects to its legions of slider fanatics (aka Cravers). There’s an emphasis on loyalty, fun, collaborating and sharing and keeping experiences fresh and exciting and it seems to transcend corporate and operational divisions. Meanwhile those same components have proven to fuel the pursuit of the fast-food chain’s sliders among its cravers, whose appetites continue to be urgent and seemingly non-stop.
The image isn’t a royal façade, Richardson said, but it is a reflection of a more focused goal.
“The most important thing is that we remember why the business exists and realize the good that hopefully comes from our ability to give back to team members, to give back to community. There’s a purpose to it.”
Part of that giving back is engaging and staying relevant to its customers beyond the restaurant experience. Over the past century, White Castle has become a part of pop culture, sometimes serendipitously, and sometimes by design. In 2014, Time magazine recognized White Castle’s slider as the most influential burger of all time. Each year since 2001, the company has accepted thousands of nominations to be inducted into its Cravers Hall of Fame and honors 10 to 12 of them as Champions of Crave. White Castle sliders have a history of popping up in the lyrics of popular bands’ music in the ‘80s; making cameos in movies (including “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977); and White Castle got top billing in the 2004 cult film, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” And then there are many of us whose memorable moments at White Castle date back to college days when post-bar stops at the local drive-thru for a bag of sliders was standard, after-midnight procedure.
Nowadays, the company is still as hip as ever, rolling out a new line of uniforms for its 10,000 employees that were the creations of fashion designer Telfar Clemens, just in time for White Castle’s 100th anniversary. Earlier this year, Fast Company named White Castle as one of its top 10 Most Innovative Dining Companies. Richardson pointed out, however, staying relevant is an ongoing process.
“That recognition is nice,” he said. “It does make you feel good that we’re going places. But the rest of the story is that once the headline is published, you still have to make it come true; you’ve got to follow through, get it to reality.”
Focused on a vision of feeding souls with a mission of making memories has been a winning formula for White Castle that has been time tested and craver approved.