What sets a world-class Craver apart from all the other people who love White Castle?
Eleven extraordinary devotees of the family-owned fast-food hamburger chain and consumer packaged goods business showed the world on May 16 with their induction into White Castle’s Cravers Hall of Fame, established in 2001 to honor Cravers who truly stand out.
Each year, White Castle inducts a new Cravers Hall of Fame class. Honorees receive free travel to White Castle’s home office in Columbus as well as complimentary meals and accommodations. They also attend a reception in their honor.
Each takes home a plaque commemorating the distinction, and White Castle fans everywhere will get to know them via their personal stories featured on the iconic Slider boxes, which will roll out later this year.
“Cravers Hall of Fame day is a magical day for us here at White Castle,” said Jamie Richardson, vice president at White Castle. “We love to see the group grow, and every year our 10,000 team members are nourished and humbled by the amazing stories our inductees share. We hear something new every time, and it means so much to know how people connect with our family business through some of the most memorable moments in their lives.”
White Castle Cravers number in the millions, and Hall of Fame inductees are the most devoted citizens of Craver Nation. Scores of people each year submit their stories in the hope of joining the exclusive group. Many of the tales are funny, some are poignant, and some are surprising, but all are personal and heartfelt. Each paints a different picture of the ways people make memories and connect over White Castle.
More than a few say they owe their very existence to a first date over Sliders by their parents or grandparents. Some are loyal to a single Castle restaurant for life. Others travel the country to enjoy The Original Slider® in as many locations as possible.
For one of this year’s winners, who grew up in a Chinese-American family in the 1960s, White Castle was the first taste of traditional American food. It became a favorite late-night treat when his dad would bring home Sliders, clam strips, and other Castle menu items after a long day serving customers in the family’s Chinese restaurant.
Having never lived near a White Castle restaurant, two brothers who were inducted together this year developed their lifelong Crave by enjoying Sliders bought in grocery stores. For many years, retail Sliders sustained the brothers and their friends during sleepovers, video game marathons and college weekends.
With this year’s additions, the Cravers Hall of Fame has grown to 283 devoted White Castle fans. Nominations are open for the Class of 2023, to be honored next year. The form is on White Castle’s website.
The Cravers Hall of Fame Class of 2022 includes the following 11 members:
- Roger Bow, Bayside, New York
Roger’s lifelong White Castle love affair began on summer nights in the 1960s when he and his sisters were allowed to wait up for their dad, who owned a Chinese restaurant, to come home after closing bearing bags of onion rings, clam strips and other White Castle treats. In his multigenerational household, White Castle was just about the only American-food exception from the traditional Chinese dishes prepared by his mother (a fan of the steamed bun on the White Castle Deep Sea Sandwich) and grandmother. The Craving continued in college, when the White Castle across the street from his Bronx campus kept him and his friends going through study marathons and recreation time alike. His own children grew up on White Castle after scout meetings and ballgames and for a Friday night treat. Though his favorite location is the Bayside restaurant, in continuous operation since 1932, his adult kids recently joined him for a short pilgrimage to the Castle near the site of his dad’s old business where the Craving began.
- Deborah Doemland, Etters, Pennsylvania
Deborah celebrates her large and loving family with special holidays she created for everyone to enjoy their shared heritage. March 13, for example, is “Nanny Foose Day,” when everyone enjoys frozen strawberry treats in honor of the great-grandmother who loved strawberry ice cream. The best holiday, though, is August 31. That’s “Slider Day,” marking the date when Deborah’s maternal grandparents Henry and Gwen Kreutz had their first date and fell in love over sliders and coffee. She and her husband drive two hours to Allentown to pick up Crave Cases for the whole family.
- Chris Henry, Forest Lake, Minnesota
Chris still remembers the first time her mother took her to what appeared to be “the oddest-looking castle-like house” and ordered an astounding 30 burgers for two adults and a few kids. She has White Castle memories through each stage of her life, from counting on “Whites” as a delicious dinner she could afford as a young adult first out on her own to enjoying White Castle Sliders when her corporate career progressed. She would even introduce associates visiting from elsewhere to their first taste of White Castle. When it came time to choose a home with her husband, “location, location, location” for her came down to the town that had a White Castle restaurant — a fact she never revealed to her husband before writing her Cravers Hall of Fame essay. Now, she stops by that restaurant on her way to deliver Sliders and such to her parents, who live an hour away. She already is planning for a future when she no longer drives and it will be her children’s and grandchildren’s job to bring her the treats a true Craver needs.
- Jeff Sedlitz, St. Johns, Florida
Before being chosen for this year’s class, Jeff had only three things on his bucket list. As a Hall of Fame honoree, he’s now down to two. He’s a man who “grew up on White Castle” and raised his own children likewise. He’s eaten White Castles in seven states, which included being present at the opening of the first Las Vegas location and being among hundreds who waited in line for hours to be part of the opening of the first Orlando location. He’s a lesson in persistence; although he wasn’t chosen on an earlier bid to join the Cravers Hall of Fame, he nonetheless proudly displays in his “man cave” the pin and card he received then. Now, those mementos of a near miss will share space with an official Hall of Fame plaque. He’s also respectful of the limits a Craver must face; although his wedding featured a car festooned with Slider boxes rather than tin cans, his wife later drew the line at stopping for White Castle while on the way to the hospital for the birth of their first child. Says Jeff, “I think that’s the only time I lost a food argument.”
- Harry Blackledge, Dade City, Florida
Harry Blackledge, who says his White Castle cravings began before he was born (mom was a fan), has the distinction of having led a drive to bring White Castle to the previously Slider-deprived state of Florida. After he moved there from Indiana and no longer could visit the White Castle drive-thru whenever he felt like it, he started a “Bring White Castle to Florida” Facebook page. A few years and 11,000 followers later, his efforts paid off with the opening of the Orlando location. Harry was the one who wielded the giant ribbon-cutting scissors. He’s not done spreading the Crave; these days you can find him under the hashtag #BringWhiteCastleToTampa.
- Shalmah Prince, Cincinnati, Ohio
For Shalmah, White Castle was the glue that cemented her relationship with a friend and mentor. The friend conducted lots of business meetings at White Castle. It was after one such session, when the friend advised Shalmah on creating a business plan, that Shalmah, a professional portrait artist, snapped a photo of the friend taking a selfie with an iconic White Castle stained-glass window displaying the word hamburger in the background. The friend passed away recently, and Shalmah has created an oil painting based on the photo, which now hangs in the Montgomery Road Castle in Norwood, Ohio. She hopes to see a copy of it displayed in the Newport, Kentucky, Castle, too. In the meantime, she enjoys after-church visits to the Newport White Castle with her husband and looks forward to basking in the recognition of joining the Cravers Hall of Fame.
- Jesse & Sam Mattson, Essex, Vermont
Brothers Jesse and Sam and their dad built a strong Crave tradition entirely without the benefit of visiting a White Castle restaurant. They were sustained in childhood by microwaveable Sliders purchased at the grocery store, enjoyed with friends during all-night sleepovers and video game marathons. In college, they turned their hockey team on to Sliders and introduced White Castle Weekends, during which no other foods were consumed. They first visited a White Castle location only two years ago, while visiting another brother in the Air Force in Las Vegas. Jesse described the experience as “magical.” These days, they make “trick shot” videos together with White Castle burgers in the scene and look forward to their next in-person visit.
- Levi Hunt, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Throughout Levi’s childhood, White Castle was mostly restricted to a twice-a-year treat when visiting family in Chicago, but that didn’t limit his love for the food and the brand. As a hobbyist photographer, he has created photoshoots involving White Castle that caught the company’s attention on social media. He found a life partner who supported his Craving enough to OK a White Castle-themed engagement photo shoot and a portrait of their new baby in a Crave Case. In 2018, a major health challenge — a heart attack coupled with a diagnosis of leukemia — deepened his connection. Just as Levi needed to change his diet to be lighter, White Castle introduced the plant-based Impossible Slider. For Levi, “It was like the universe gave me a win!” That sense was amplified on a family visit to Chicago, when an impromptu family photo shoot in the White Castle attracted the attention of the restaurant manager, who greeted the family and gave Levi White Castle merchandise including a shirt emblazoned with one word: FAMILY. Now, with Levi in remission and undergoing his second round of treatment for cancer, one additional sign from the White Castle universe reassures him. The company’s partnership with Puma, his favorite shoe company, produced White Castle-themed shoes and skateboards, convincing the self-described 43-year-old skateboard kid that he is “not going anywhere!”
- Pete Aprahamian, Basking Ridge, New Jersey
Colleen Ellwood nominated Pete, a fellow volunteer firefighter at the Liberty Corner Fire Company in Liberty Corner, New Jersey, for the Cravers Hall of Fame, saying his energetic charm and powerful Crave make him an extremely effective White Castle ambassador. She related that his White Castle relationship started as a child, when he and a brother were given quarters for Sliders and allowed to walk to the White Castle across the street from their grandmother’s house in Jackson Heights, New York, (while his parents watched from the window). Like many, he took the Craving to college, where in lieu of local restaurants he stocked the fraternity-house freezer with packaged Sliders and took suitcases of Sliders to Giants games. He has impressed family members with Slider-based stuffing on Thanksgiving and turned the firehouse into a bastion of Crave by making Crave Cases the staple of their company meetings. His 50th birthday was marked by a surprise party organized by his dad, featuring, what else, but a full White Castle menu, enjoyed at the firehouse with friends and a basket of White Castle-themed merchandise from the local restaurant.
- Erin Vermuellen, Detroit, Michigan
Erin, an anchor and radio personality in Detroit, has been a good friend to White Castle, covering some of the burger chain’s most important stories. Her interest in White Castle isn’t just professional, however. She has personal reasons for loving the iconic brand. It has provided her with many memorable experiences involving late nights with good friends. After a night of fun just about anywhere in town, White Castle always sounds good — and a restaurant is always nearby. Such fun sometimes presents challenges, such as when a bit of over-ordering left a Crave Case full of delicious leftovers, but Erin and her friends were on motorcycles, leaving no easy way to carry the Crave. Happily, Erin made it home with the Sliders intact and enjoyed the best possible post-night-out breakfast.