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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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In Dining

The first White Castle opened in 1921.

In Dining

White Castle is famous for the slider.

Why is there only one White Castle in Wisconsin?


Almost everyone in Wisconsin has a White Castle hamburger experience, and yet, few of those experiences actually took place in Wisconsin. Although the mini-hamburger chain has 405 locations in the United States, only one of them is in the Dairy State.

The Kenosha White Castle, 1730 75th St., has been in business for 13 years and continues to thrive. However, a Racine location was open only two years. As a fan of the "slider," particularly while on a road trip, I started to wonder why there aren't any White Castles in Milwaukee.

It couldn't be because we're not interested in burgers here in Brew City, but I wondered if local competition like Kopp's and Solly's, mixed with the high number of other burger chains, might obscure White Castle's success.

Or maybe Wisconsinsites simply prefer big burgers over small sliders? (We like big burgers and we cannot lie?)

Regardless, when you ask these kinds of questions, there's only one way to get answers – call corporate. And so I did, and within minutes, I was speaking to Mike Guinan, one of White Castle's regional directors of restaurant operations.

Guinan oversees 82 restaurants – 81 of which are in Illinois and Indiana as well as the one in Kenosha. So I asked him why there is only one Wisco White Castle.

His answer was that, basically, there is no answer and they would like to someday open more.

"First of all, we are always looking for additional sites in the best locations," he says. "However, in the past couple of years we have focused more on remodeling existing locations rather than opening up new ones. A lot of White Castle restaurants went under construction and have been updated."

A Milwaukee location, according to Guinan, is not in the works, but certainly not out of the question, either.

"I could absolutely see a White Castle opening in Milwaukee someday," he says.

Walt Anderson opened the first White Castle in 1921 in Wichita, Kan., and today the company is run by the fourth generation of the same family.

"I am really proud to work for a company that remains family owned," says Guinan. "The current owners are every bit as engaged and involved as previous generations."

The restaurant is credited with being the first fast food chain as well as the first fast food chain to sell frozen food.

Anderson is also credited with inventing the hamburger bun and to have changed the public perception of eating ground beef. In 1906, Upton Sinclair published the novel, "The Jungle," which documented the poor sanitation in the meat packing industry and made people afraid to eat its products.

Due to its trailblazing contributions to the fast food industry, Time Magazine named the White Castle slider the most influential burger of all time in January 2014.

The slider is a small, square-shaped hamburger or cheeseburger that originally sold for 5 cents and later for 10 cents each. Today, they are about $1 each. They are sold in bags or boxes and people, generally, eat about five per meal.

White Castle also offers chicken ring and fish sliders and small seafood sandwiches called shrimp nibblers.

On Wednesday, White Castle – which is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio – introduced the breakfast waffle taco and the chicken waffle taco.

Most White Castles are open 24 hours, although the Kenosha location is closed from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Other chains have attempted to dominate the fast-food slider scene, but only Krystal restaurants, based in Atlanta, have been somewhat successful – and only in the southern states.

"White Castle has such a unique product it really can't be duplicated," says Guinan.

Talkbacks

Photodavie | April 7, 2014 at 9:49 a.m. (report)

Netrite... TACO JOHNS.... OMG. SO underrated. Salsa bar. So good. Agreed, I'd love to see one closer to MKE. They used to be at the Grand Ave like 10 years ago.

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Photodavie | April 7, 2014 at 7:27 a.m. (report)

Nice reporting. Even though it was a dead-end. I've always wondered the same thing. However, I'd kill for an IN N OUT Burger instead. So good.

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Nezrite | April 6, 2014 at 10:35 a.m. (report)

I'd love a Milwaukee-area White Castle, as well as a more convenient Taco John's then just the one in Waukesha.

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hardgeminiguy | April 5, 2014 at 3:47 p.m. (report)

if i recall correctly, there once was a white castle in downtown milwaukee. any readers recall that? forgot what street it was on.

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