Time for a little nostalgia. I recently saw that White Castle is celebrating its 100th year, and with one of their restaurants located since at least 1939 at Harlem and Ogden, across the street from Riverside in Berwyn, I thought I’d delve into a bit of history.
Founded on March 21, 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, by E.W. “Billy” Ingram, White Castle is what we now call the original fast food restaurant. With only $700 and an idea, he set out to make his little hamburgers, or “sliders” as they became known, a favorite around the country.
Now some of you will admit to liking the sliders, while others will not, but most people in this area can conjure an episode in their lives involving White Castle. My friends and I felt that White Castle sliders were best eaten at night, and its hours hours made it possible to get a bite late at night.
Late night White Castle sliders became a tradition, so much so that at one of the RBHS Class of 1960 reunions, someone shouted “White Castle” at 11 p.m. and, just like that, we were off on a mission to get 100 sliders.
The person at the drive-up window was very nice but requested next time we call in our order. At the next reunion, sliders were on the menu of the Friday night casual get-together. As requested, we called in our order, which was close to 300 hamburgers.
Some diners will remember it as a place for an “inexpensive” date (don’t want to say cheap), maybe an engagement, birthday party and yes, even the odd wedding.
I’ve even had a star turn at the drive-thru, with the server excitedly telling me she knew who I was — the lady who writes the newspaper column. My first thought was, “I don’t have any makeup on, just give me the hamburgers.” So much for fame — I still had to pay for them.
White Castle has come a long way and influenced many a fast food chain. The word “slider” has come to mean a small hamburger or chicken or whatever on a small bun, which is what Billy Ingram had intended.
Happy Birthday, White Castle and to the Ingram family, the fourth generation keeping the tradition going. As a matter of fact, I’m having White Castle for dinner tonight, and I’m not ashamed to admit that, to use their phrase, “It’s what I crave.”