I don’t think that there were any White Castles in Worcester when I was growing up.
We did have a White Tower.
Like pretty much everything else I associated with Worcester, I assumed that White Tower was the second-rate, the cut-rate, version of the real thing. Johnny Carson could make a wise-crack about White Castle, and we had to pretend we got it.
If something wasn’t in Worcester, it was inherently more sophisticated, more interesting, more authentic than what we had on tap. Real life happened in Boston, in Chicago, in New York City. Blah life happened in Worcester.
All we had to show for our troubles was the Smiley Face and Dr. Robert Goddard, pioneering rocket scientist.
Oh, and the fact that Elden Auker – a retired professional baseball player that no one other than my father had ever heard of – lived in a Worcester suburb. (Since there was nothing else to do in Worcester, our family went out for a lot of “spins” – my father loved to drive and take his family for a ride – and some of our “spins” took us by Elden Auker’s house.)
In my imagination, there was a parallel, more sophisticated and interesting universe in which “spins” took you by the home of someone you’d heard of – like Ted Williams – or by a White Castle, not the singularly depressing White Tower on the corner of Main and Chandler, in a ratty and rundown part of town.
I have never eaten at a White Tower – nor a White Castle, for that matter.
My first foray into fast food was at the McDonald’s in Main South – over one billion served! Much glossier, much cleaner, much safer than that seedy White Tower.
And, of course, as a grew up and continued to define and redefine the world, I began to think that while a White Tower might be a White Castle manqué, a White Castle might be pretty much manqué in its own right. I imagined both Towers and Castles as the sort of places that bums, drunks, loafers, ne’er do wells supped. Or maybe just plain old lost souls. The kind of place that Edward Hopper had in mind when he painted Night Hawks. (Can you imagine Hopper painting a McDonald’s, with its garish red and yellow, and with Ronald McDonald flopping around in his outsized brogues, with that creepy grease-paint grin leering at you?)
But, clearly, I didn’t really know anything about White Castles.
I’ve never even seen one. The closest you get to a WC in these parts is a 7-11 or CVS that sells frozen sliders. (As for WT, it’s pretty much out of business as far as I can tell. Next time I’m in Worcester I’ll lock the car doors and cruise by its old location and see what’s up.)
White Castle, on the other hand, stills seems to be hanging on.
And it has a pretty interesting history for itself, having invented the hamburger bun, popularized the hamburger, created the concept of fast food, and came up with the slider.
Its founding fathers decided not to franchise so, unlike McDonald’s with its tens of thousands of outlets, White Castle has fewer than 500, mostly found in the Midwest. The reason someone like Johnny Carson might have joked about them was that, for some reason, there were/are a number of White Castles in the New York area.
Anyway, White Castle is in the news these days is because they’re coming out with veggie burgers:
Late-night burger chain White Castle announced this week that it will start offering a 99¢ veggie slider, essentially a vegetarian version of the mini beef burgers the chain is known for. Coming from a company that sells sacks (and even crates) of tiny cheeseburgers to the munchie afflicted, the move is something of a surprise. Especially because veggie burgers and other fare marketed as "healthier" than typical fast food have barely moved the needle at other chains so far. (Source: Business Week)
Really now, who goes to a fast food burger joint for a healthy alternative?
Sure, I’ve been trapped on the NY State Thruway and have gotten a McDonald’s salad, but I always end up with salad-eater’s remorse. Those suckers tend to have the same amount of calories as a quarter pounder with nowhere near the satisfaction.
Would I have been tempted by a veggie burger? Probably not.
Anyway, other than Burger King, none of the biggies – BK, McD and Wendy’s – offers them. At one point, McDonald’s tried a veggie burger experiment in Southern California, but only averaged about four sales per day per store. And that was in Southern Cal! Imagine if they’d tried this in a meatier locale.
But White Castle is counting on vegetarians to come through for them. It’s hoping that those who order a sack (or something called a crate) of sliders will throw in a couple of veggie burgers. It will also let them appeal to groups that have a vegetarian or two among their ranks.
If I want to give a crate of White Castle sliders – with veggie or not – a whirl, I just need to hoof it over to a 7-11 and look in the frozen food section.
God, solo eating a crate of frozen White Castle sliders.
Sounds even more depressing than a guest appearance in Night Hawks.
Info source on White Castle: Wikipedia.