A Crowning Moment

A Crowning Moment

White Castle hoopla continues after opening

By Kristine Cannon

Donning crowns, wearing White Castle jerseys and armed with a plastic shield and battle-ax, Jamie West and Drew Schmitt were not only among the first to charge into the newly opened White Castle near Scottsdale a little after 8 a.m. October 23, but they were also invited by White Castle Vice President Jamie Richardson to cut the ribbon at the grand opening ceremony.

It was an impromptu moment neither West nor Schmitt expected—and one they will likely never forget.

“We both remember growing up on White Castle,” says West, who, along with Schmitt, spent four days camped in front of White Castle leading up to its opening. “White Castle’s definitely going to help bring everybody together through their childhood.”

Arizona’s first White Castle—and the first White Castle west of the Mississippi—officially opened on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to a crowd of 100 to 200 people lined up just outside the fast-food restaurant’s front doors.

The first few people in line spent anywhere from two to four days camped out on the White Castle parking lot.

They included Fountain Hills residents West and Schmitt since October 19; Gilbert resident Chris Lewis since October 21; and Mesa residents David Lefland and Joseph M. Usuch, both since October 21.

“I haven’t had White Castle since I was 12 years old back in New York,” says Lefland, who’s originally from Queens. “They have the best burgers: the way they steam them and the flavor. Through high school and college, that’s where we used to go on Saturday nights after we were out.”

Arizona’s first White Castle is unique in a few ways.

Gilbert resident Chris Lewis, right, camped outside White Castle near Scottsdale for two days leading up to its grand opening on October 23. He said he camped in honor of his late father, left, who died in 2018. Lewis took this photo with his father at the then-Phoenix International Raceway in 2008. Photo courtesy Chris Lewis

For starters, the Arizona Castle is the largest White Castle location in the world, at more than 4,500 square feet.

It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and offers table service—one of only two locations that offer the latter, with the other in Columbus, Ohio.

And, according to a press release, the Arizona Castle hired 130 team members and managers to support the restaurant—far surpassing its initial estimate in August 2018 of bringing 50 to 75 new jobs to the area.

“We are eager to become a member of the Scottsdale community, and to share our crave-able menu items and quality service with Arizonans all day, every day,” Richardson says.

The entire menu, including breakfast items, like sliders, is available 24/7.

In addition to its Original Slider burger, made with 2-by-2-inch beef patties, Arizona’s White Castle also has the rare 1921 Slider on the menu. It’s special because it’s made with a thicker beef patty and served with cheese, lettuce and tomato.

“I ordered two Crave cases: cheeseburgers with extra pickle. And then I did 15 doubles with extra pickle. And then I’m going to try four of those new 1921 Sliders,” says Usuch, who added the first 10 or so people in line placed their orders ahead of the opening and merely paid at the counter on opening day.

After camping out for four days, Fountain Hills residents Jamie West and Drew Schmitt were invited to help cut the ribbon for the opening of the new White Castle in Scottsdale. Pablo Robles/Progress Photographer

“I ordered 210 cheeseburgers, and I’m bringing them to work,” Lefland adds. “I’m bringing them to my wife’s job because she couldn’t be here.”

The Arizona Castle is one of only three locations serving the 1921 Slider.

“It took us 98 years to get here, so we’re going back to something that started in our early beginning days,” Orlondo Lopez, the restaurant’s operating partner, says of the slider. “We wanted to introduce that to Arizona.”

Lopez has worked at White Castle for 19 years, but his White Castle memories date further back.

“When I was little, my uncles and aunts would bring us on the weekends and we would get our own sliders after church,” recalls Lopez, who grew up near Chicago in Indiana.

Usuch grew up nearby in Harvey, Indiana. 

“We lived on White Castle as kids,” Usuch says. “We went all the time and grew up there.”

Lewis, the third person in line, also grew up on White Castle during his time near Cincinnati.

He camped outside the Arizona Castle in honor of his father, who died at 59 in February 2018.

“This was something that we shared, that we enjoyed together,” says Lewis, who moved to Arizona in 1987. “This is just something that we would have done together. It’s just something that I can share with him. There’s no way in a million years I would be out here for just food. There’s more to it.”

Lewis and his father visited White Castle often, but after their family left for Arizona in 1987, getting their hands on the chain’s iconic slider proved difficult.

Bilal Abdul-Rahmann and Lekitha Johnson place an automated order for their sliders. Pablo Robles/Progress Staff Photographer

“It was usually me bringing them back because I would travel for different things and then I would buy about 100 at a time—or 200—and I would fly home with them,” Lewis says.

And when he flew his father back to Ohio to watch a race at Portsmouth Raceway Park, the first thing they did once they got off the plane was “go to a White Castle,” Lewis says.

At the Arizona White Castle, patrons can also order beer and wine when they dine in. The location is one of only three U.S. stores that serve alcohol.

The fast-food chain also boasts a rare double-lane drive-thru with a high clearance, a redesigned kitchen that allows staff to make 240 sliders at a time, digital ordering kiosks, a 1,000-square-foot patio, and Alice Cooper’s Corner, located in the dining room.

Cooper, a Phoenician and lifelong Craver, attended the groundbreaking festivities in April.

According to a press release, Cooper tried his first slider as a young boy in Detroit, and, in July 2014, he was inducted into the Cravers Hall of Fame as a member of the “Craver in Extremis” category, which recognizes public figures who are quite vocal of love for White Castle.

“Being inducted into the Cravers Hall of Fame will go down as one of my all-time favorite honors,” Cooper says. “They promised me a Castle close by, but I never thought they would do it. This is going to be epic.”

In addition to walk-in and drive-thru, customers can place orders online for pick-up and through Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub for delivery.

“I’m in big trouble,” Usuch admits with a laugh. “I’m going to be here every day.” ν

White Castle

9310 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale

480-291-5700, whitecastle.com