NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The White Castle restaurant on Somerset Street permanently closed on January 12, after 27 years in operation there.
Citing “rising costs,” and a “changing business model for restaurants everywhere,” White Castle System Inc. Vice President Jamie Richardson, said that sometimes neighborhoods change or competition increases.
The location was sandwiched between a McDonald’s and a Dunkin Donuts. A Burger King recently opened across the street in Franklin Township.
“Now and then we do have to close one,” said Richardson, whose wife’s great grandfather launched the first “Castle” back in 1921.
The fourth generation in-law and executive with the family business also noted that the costs of meat and labor are rising every year.
“A specific location might not be as able to be as helpful as it was to the total business.”
The privately-held chain operates 372 locations across 14 states.
It’s the “hardest decision we make,” Richardson, said of having to shutter any Castle.
“It’s not something we take lightly. We always offer all employees a chance to continue with us. But in this instance we had to make that tough decision to close [in New Brunswick]–as much as we hate doing that.”
About 22 of the 25 employees affected by the closure have taken positions at other White Castle locations in the area, according to Richardson.
While not everyone always accepts the offer to stay on, it is something the chain always provides, said Richardson, adding: “Take care of [your] people. Do the right thing by them” as you look ahead to “what’s next.”
The chain, known for its small square hamburgers or “sliders” reportedly serves a niche market.
It has far fewer locations than McDonald’s or Burger King and “has avoided giving up control” by franchising — the primary method used by most other burger chains to expand and grow, according to a recent Forbes report.
“It was a slow business, sir, that’s why [it closed],” said a White Castle employee who answered the phone at the South Plainfield location on Stelton Road.
Richardson spoke optimistically of the new “Impossible Slider” a plant-based burger he said is served at all White Castle locations.
Made by Impossible Foods, that product was named by Thrillist in 2019 as the “Best Plant-Based Fast Food Burger.”
Impossible Foods supplies competing fast-food chains as well, and has been highly successful by many measures, calling its own competition–not other makers’ of plant-based substitutes–but the traditional meat industry itself.
“People are rediscovering the Castle,” Richardson told Forbes, citing the brand’s 1.2 million followers on Facebook. “We’re still family-owned and don’t seek the limelight as much, but social media has been a place where our followers are bigger than our footprint.”
In addition to the South Plainfield location, there are still four more White Castles open in Middlesex County: Route 18 in East Brunswick, Route 1 in South Brunswick, Lafayette Road in Metuchen, and Route 9 in South Amboy.
Dave is an award-winning business reporter who has authored over 200 articles for New Brunswick Today.