“So for us figuring out logistically how to support those Castles in Las Vegas was a big step for us," CEO Lisa Ingram told the Arizona Republic. "Now that we figured that out, it opened up some opportunities for us to look out West and to look at other markets."
It stressed another key point for White Castle, also a departure from previous efforts. The chain didn’t need to break the dam each time it entered a market.
“That was one of the other things we did decades ago,” Richardson says. “We thought that we had to get to a certain number of stores to have critical mass. As a result, we didn’t always get the best sites and we started to cannibalize our sales pretty quickly.”
The Arizona store—slated for The Block at Pima Center in Scottsdale—broke ground in mid-April. It’s planning for a fall opening and will be the first family-owned White Castle west of the Mississippi River. The ceremony was attended by Cravers Hall of Famer Alice Cooper, who says he grew up on White Castle’s two-by-two slices, and Ingram. Cooper, by the way, wants a corner booth named “The Dungeon.”
“I don’t know if we’re going to go there or not,” Richardson says with a laugh.
“They promised me a Castle close by, but I never thought they would do it," Cooper said at the groundbreaking. "This is going to be epic.”
Arizona always rose to the top of corporate discussions about growth for the nearly 400-unit chain, which did $547.60 million in U.S. systemwide sales in 2017 on average-unit volumes of $1.441 million.
Here’s how White Castle’s unit count has tracked since 2013 (end of year figures):
- 2017: 380
- 2016: 384
- 2015: 390
- 2014: 391
- 2013: 400
Richardson says the “huge, huge dedicated loyal social media” following was a direct driver. The demographics just fit, too. There’s a large swath of migratory residents in the area who grew up in Midwest and East Coast markets where White Castle was a right of passage.
A July 26, 2018 post from one Facebook group, “Bring White Castle restaurants to Phoenix, Arizona” says: “Still trying. There’s got to be someone in the company that will listen to me!!”
How many growth-minded chains are courted this way? But it’s a thread that weaves through many of America’s regional quick-serve burger classics. Places like In-N-Out, A&W, Krystal, Whataburger, White Castle, and others. And, of course, White Castle even has a movie made in its honor.
“The fact that our sandwiches are known and loved there already helps a lot,” Richardson says of Arizona. “There’s a built in-base and loyal following. We also see it as a high growth area with lots of potential.”
Years ago, White Castle sent semi-trucks full of sliders across the nation to Fountain Hills. They were met by massive crowds. "... we’re officially here for the long haul,” Ingram said in April.
It won’t hurt catering to snow birds instead of surviving snowstorms, either. There is no timetable or expectation for further growth, Richardson adds.
“We’re going to let this be our starting point,” he says, “and see where it leads us.”
"If this is successful it certainly would behoove us to look for other places in Phoenix or in Arizona to find some more Castles," Ingram added to the Arizona Republic.