Hamburger Diaries Xtra: White Castle and Krystal
For the last several weeks this blog has received hits from search engines using the explicit phrase “Are White Castle and Krystal the same company?”
No. They are separate entities and always have been. If some kind of corporate merger has been planned or discussed it has escaped your correspondent’s notice.
White Castle was the pioneer in what we now call Quick Service Restaurants. The original idea was to provide a very limited menu of items which may be prepared in advance serving people in transit, including train stations, bus stations or busier intraurban transit points. White Castle also found a loyal base of customers who were not in transit, but just wanted something to eat right now. White Castle stores are all company owned, excepting a brief exercise in franchising Mexico in the late ’90s. Notoriously, White Castle is a slow growing company keeping to their primary markets of larger cities, or nearby those cities, and exclusively in the American Midwest to Northeast.
The somewhat newer Krystal originally mimicked the successful White Castle, using perhaps the most clever variation of what the name White Castle intended to convey. Krystal was a direct copy who operated in the American South, but has evolved into a distinct restaurant experience. The companies have never been related in any way.
Stories abound about some kind of arrangement or gentlemen’s agreement between the companies, allowing each to expand without legal hassles from the other provided they stay within certain geographic limits. This story is likely apocryphal.
The two restaurant chains share only one market, Nashville, TN, of which nearby Bowling Green, KY may be considered a suburb and has both chains present.
I anticipate some well meaning souls shall reply to this taking exception to the idea that White Castle was the first fast food. A&W also implies this claim. However, the franchise agreement for the first A&Ws included the root beer concentrate, logos, and other trademarks which may be used. Critically, this did not include an entire restaurant plan or standardized menu. White Castle is considered first because it provided the entire package at once. A White Castle in Illinois is fundamentally the same as a White Castle in New York. Until the standardization brought by YUM International in the mid-1990s. this was not the case for A&W.