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White Castle Celebrates 95 Years as Family-Owned Business with Ferndale Visit

Renaissance_Unity_Brown_TopWhite Castlelevel_one_ad01 Celebrates 95 Years as Family-Owned Business with Ferndale Visit

(Crystal A. Proxmire, July 24, 2016)

Ferndale, MI – Fast food chains are not exactly known for their concern over employee quality of life, but White Castle is not like other companies.  In fact, the family owned enterprise has a big goal as their 100th anniversary approaches – to be one of the top 100 Best Companies to work by 2021. Now approaching the 95th year, they are moving full-steam ahead on those efforts.

On Sunday, “People Person,” or what other companies call Human Resources Director, John Kelley came to the Ferndale location (8 Mile and Woodward) to meet with employees, talk about the company’s plans, and to see in person what more could be done to make White Castle an even better employer.

gallowaycollens1He is visiting nearly 400 stores in 95 days.  Ferndale was #257.

“Because we are a family owned business, we want employees to spend time with their families and have a good work-life balance,” Kelley said as he spoke with crew members.  “We’re very proud of our efforts to make sure that we do the best for our employees so that they do their best for the customers, and stay with us.  One of the things we say is we want to feed souls and create memorable experiences. That’s for the customer and for the employees.”

White Castle was one of the first restaurants to offer employee healthcare benefits back in 1924 and has a history of paying a high percentage of the plan cost.  They offer life insurance and a choice of retirement savings options.  There are paid vacations. Employees are given an annual bonus that is based on years of service, and Summerfest2016 TALLthey earn higher wages than their giant chain competitors.

Employees are not just trained to flip burgers, but to grow as individuals and work as teams.  Because employee retention is high, there is more stability in scheduling, less impact of new employee training slowing down the process, and better civility among the crews.

Kelley said that in an industry known for turnover, White Castle employee loyalty shows in that the average manager has been with the company for 19 years.

Tracy Lang is the General Manager of the Ferndale location.  “I’ve got 15 years in,” she said.  “I would have had 25 if I hadn’t left the first time.”

Kelley said he hears situations like that often.  “I hear from so many people DDAnew01that this was their first job and they ended up coming back.”

People Person Kelley’s grandfather and uncle used to visit every store once a year. Kelley is among those in the fourth generations away from the original founders of White Castle – Billy Ingram and Walter Anderson, and he recently returned to WC after teaching elementary school.  He hopes that his background in education helps him to be approachable by the employees.

At the Ferndale visit, crew member Mike Pope Jr asked questions about the company’s plans for growth, and wanted to know more about the technology used for scheduling.  Kelley said they are always looking for ways to use technology to make things easier for the crews.  Pope said he liked that his schedule came right to his phone, and that managers can send out a text to all employees if there is a shift that needs to be filled.Pledge_side_blue

Maria Berry said she’d worked for other fast food places before, but that White Castle was “definitely different.”  The job is less stressful than others, she said “because you know what to expect every day.”

Having nearly 400 restaurants comes with large hits when regulations change. White Castle leadership has testified about their concerns over the Affordable Care Act and in New York over the raising of the minimum wage from $9 an hour to $15 an hour. Both situations were not only economically daunting, but also reduced their capacity to offer competitive wages and benefits that would be more appealing than other restaurants.  According to the average wage of a WC worker is $11.98/hour.  However one feels about the politics behind those changes to the law, there is no doubt that the White Castle family, like many other mom and pop businesses, is trying to find the balance between caring for their royal_servicesemployees and keeping the business going so that those jobs can be there, and they have been adjusting to the changes.

As WC navigates the challenges of business, Kelley says the company’s focus is being among the best employers, a goal he hopes can happen by their 100th birthday.  Once Kelley is done with the location visits, he’ll be taking the suggestions and ideas back to the office in Ohio, and crew members like those at the 8 Mile and Woodward location can box up sliders with a little more connection to the bigger picture.

Understanding employee needs is both a matter of economics and a matter of pride for White Castle leadership.  The restaurant chain is built on consistency, efficient processes, cleanliness, and positive customer interactions.  The white and stainless steel design features, and the openness of the cooking area to emphasize the cleanliness and care. They have even begun posting their inspections online at so the public GT ad 04can know how clean they are. In Oakland County every location passed health department inspections in 2015 with no issues listed according to the site. This kind of sparkle does not happen if employees don’t feel a sense of pride in their work.

Even for the employees who do no stay long term, Kelley feels the experience at WC is one that sticks with them.  “For many people White Castle is their first job, or one of their firsts.  By focusing on character and training, we’re giving people a real opportunity, and teaching them things like responsibility, taking pride in themselves and their work, being part of a team.”

Kelley made time to join the employees for breakfast, and talked with them about their lives and their experiences.  “This isn’t just a visit from the boss, this is about them.  We want to create memorable experiences. We want everyone to know they are part of a family here.”

To learn more about White Castle visit their website at

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