At 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, shortly before Arizona’s first White Castle near Scottsdale made its grand opening, a line of an estimated 200-plus people had formed and was quickly growing.
Some of the die-hard White Castle fans, or Cravers as they’re known, grew up in the Midwest, where the fast-food chain originated.
White Castle matters to them because of the memories they’ve made with family and friends that go beyond the smell of onions or chomp of a steam-cooked slider. Some of them were children who came of age with White Castle as a reliable fixture in their lives.
Now that they’re older and have settled into the Phoenix area, they’re hyped up for a place that feels familiar.
First customers ‘storm the castle’
“I haven’t had White Castle in about five years, so I’m excited,” said Vionne Calhoun, who’s from Ohio but has lived in Mesa for 12 years.
Where she’s from, White Castle was the late-night hang-out spot for her friends and family. She’s eaten White Castle food since she was 5 years old. For Wednesday’s opening Calhoun arrived at 6:30 a.m. because she knew there would be a line, she said.
White Castle opened near Medieval Times in the Talking Stick Entertainment District near Scottsdale. Nicole Schaub, Arizona Republic
Several descendants of White Castle’s founding family also showed up for the occasion, including CEO Lisa Ingram. The Ohio-based business, known for its small “2×2” burgers, has been in her family since 1921.
Finally, about half an hour later, the wait was over.
The White Castle team invited Jamie West and her husband Drew Schmitt, the first people in line, up to cut the ribbon. “Storm the castle” they yelled on the blue carpet, lifting up their their faux battle axe and sword.
It was time to go inside.
‘This was one of the special places we would go’
Gilbert resident Chris Lewis was third in line and has spent the last two nights camping in his Ford F-150 truck. Yesterday he placed his preorder of two Crave Cases totaling 200 sliders. White Castle stirs up strong emotions and memories of his father and him in Ohio, where they lived before moving to Arizona in 1987.
“We didn’t have a lot growing up, not a lot of money,” Lewis said. “On the very rare chances we got to go out and eat, this was one of the special places we would go and so it always kinda had that special feeling for me.”
Lewis sent his first email to White Castle headquarters in 1996, petitioning the company to expand to the Valley. Other than the “delicious” food, he and his father wanted White Castle to come because it was comfort food and connected them to fond memories, Lewis said.
Lewis thinks his father would have been more excited about the first bite than him. He wouldn’t be in line if it weren’t for him.
“We’ve been waiting patiently for them, but unfortunately my father passed away last year and didn’t even get to know they were going to make one here in Arizona,” Lewis said. “It was something I wanted to do with him. It kinda feels like he’s with me and we’re doing this together.”
Couple camped out 4 days in advance
Ribbon-cutters West and Schmitt scored the coveted position of being first in line after parking their trailer outside White Castle around 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19.
On Wednesday morning they wore crowns and held on to slider masks, White Castle mugs and plastic battle gear.
West, who grew up in Arizona, told The Arizona Republic on Monday she has a deep connection to White Castle. She was in the Arizona foster care system from age 3 to 13 before setting off on her own, she said.
While traveling the country, White Castle represented a reliable, affordable source of food during a time when she otherwise might have gone hungry.
The day before, the couple ordered two Crave Cases and about 15 assorted menu items, including the original 1921 Slider, which they had never tried before, West said.
They plan to give out sliders when they return to their home in Fountain Hills, she added. The Fountain Hills community used to order White Castle for charity functions, and at one point became famous in Chicago for it, West said.
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What’s on the Scottsdale White Castle menu
“I can tell you from experience, this is an extremely fancy White Castle,” said Frank Nelson, glancing over at the touch-screen kiosks. “Not that the other ones aren’t nice.”
Nelson grew up on the south side of Chicago. He has a tradition that whenever he flies back with his son, now 21, the first place they go to is White Castle, no matter the hour.
The hamburger chain is best known for its sliders, which feature “2-by-2” beef patties steam-cooked on a bed of onions. For those who prefer avoiding red meat, there are also chicken and fish sliders, as well as veggie sliders and plant-based Impossible Burger sliders for vegetarian and vegan diners.
The company cooks the Impossible patties on separate griddles from the meat patties and eggs, representatives from White Castle previously told The Republic.
Diners also can look forward to a breakfast menu available 24/7. One popular item is the breakfast slider, made with fresh-cracked eggs and a choice between bun or Belgian waffle. And yes, the waffles are actually sourced from Belgium, Ingram told The Republic.
The White Castle near Scottsdale will serve alcohol every day from 6-2 a.m. There will be beers and wines available on tap, plus White Claw hard seltzer in mango and black cherry flavors.
Nelson has lived in Phoenix and Scottsdale for the past 27 years. For this Chicagoan, it was worth coming a day early to snag a spot near the front of the line — even if it meant sleeping outside on a bench overnight.
“It got a little nippier than I thought it’d be,” he admitted.
Cravers and Slider Heads gather together
Childhood for Mike Santos meant White Castle Sundays with his friends and family.
“That was our main hangout,” Santos said. “When you were a kid in the Bronx, your main hangout was White Castle. … If you had a dollar, you could get four burgers and fries back in the 1970s.”
Every Sunday he and his siblings would walk about three-quarters of a mile to the closest White Castle where their friends would meet up with them. For a few dollars, they felt like they could eat like kings and queens.
Not everyone at the White Castle opening was a transplant to Arizona. Some wanted to try their first bite of a White Castle slider.
Two people waiting in line next to each other, Brenda Aguirre and Sally Giordano, discovered they coincidentally were both celebrating a birthday.
Giordano said she’s excited every White Castle anniversary will also be her birthday. While she has been to the White Castle franchise location in Las Vegas, her friend from Chicago was adamant that it wasn’t a “real White Castle.”
The restaurant in Arizona will be her first time at a family-owned White Castle location, Giordano said. Aguirre said she’s never had White Castle food but wanted to know what the fuss was about.
“Everyone talks about it and I’m not going to Las Vegas for a hamburger,” Aguirre said. “My family’s also never had it so I ordered 30 (sliders) for my family.”
Details: 9310 E. Via de Ventura, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. 614-228-5781, whitecastle.com. Open 24 hours, seven days a week.
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