Kansas was the birthplace of White Castle. Here’s why it disappeared from the state

Backstory July20
Photo of the original restaurant in Wichita. Courtesy of White Castle

“We first opened our doors in Wichita, Kansas, in March of 1921. Our founder, Billy Ingram—Billy was an entrepreneurial kind of person—struck up a great friendship with restaurateur Walt Anderson. Billy became really intrigued by this idea of the hamburger sandwich. He came up with the name: White for cleanliness and Castle for permanence and strength. They opened the first one in Wichita on Main Street, where the Sunflower Bank is today. Those early years were beyond their wildest dreams in terms of success. Billy looked around and saw where we were growing. At that point we had Castles in Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati, New York, Minneapolis. He wanted to be more centrally located, so he moved the business to Columbus, Ohio, in 1934.

“We were always mystified as to why, as a family-owned business, we didn’t maintain a presence in Wichita. Well, about ten years ago, we decided it’d be great to go back to where it all began and serve sliders to our fans. We were able to partner with a great local grocery chain, Dillons, to do an event where we served up thousands of burgers. A number of family members had the opportunity to go. While we were there, someone came up to us and shared the story.

“Billy had a loyal employee and good friend, Jimmie King. After we moved to Columbus, Jimmie didn’t love Ohio and was hankering to get back to Kansas. So Billy said, ‘You know what, Jimmie? If you want to move back and start something on your own, we don’t have to keep the White Castles going there.’ So Billy sold Jimmie the White Castle locations and he opened his own place, Kings-X. It was one of Jimmie’s descendants who came in and told us that story. So that’s why there are no White Castles there.

“We went into Kansas City as an expansion market in the mid-eighties using the same model that had served us well in cities we had been in since the twenties and thirties. To be really candid about it, we invested in having a big local warehouse and distribution center, and in hindsight we might not have picked the best locations. We did it kind of quick. We opened up big but we didn’t have the same loyal following we did in other cities. And it was right about the same time we launched our frozen grocery store line, and that really took off, so that’s where we decided to focus our resources.”

— Jamie Richardson, vice president of White Castle, as told to Kansas City

Categories: History