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White Castle opens its largest restaurant in Orlando, and fans fill up on burgers and nostalgia

Austin Fuller, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Business News

ORLANDO, Fla. — Sheila Santiago arrived at the Orlando White Castle at 3:30 a.m. Monday to line up with what would grow to more than 100 other customers eagerly awaiting the restaurant’s grand opening.

“I could not sleep last night,” the 49-year-old Orlando resident said.

Originally from New York, Santiago worked at White Castle as a teenager. After she got through the line, her first bite of the chain’s sliders was just how she remembered it.

“I literally have chills because I feel like it’s just brought me home,” Santiago said.

The 4,567-square-foot restaurant opened shortly after 8 a.m. Monday, with customers making their way inside after orange and blue confetti flew through the air during the opening ceremony. More people waited in their cars for the drive through, with vehicles backing up on Daryl Carter Parkway at the O-Town West development near Walt Disney World.

The restaurant will be open until 1 a.m. Tuesday and then 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day of the week. Eventually, it will be a 24-hour operation. It’s the first White Castle in Florida since the 1960s.

“This is the largest White Castle in the system and we built it because we figured that in Florida they would have the largest craving for our products,” said White Castle CEO Lisa Ingram, wearing a “Slider Queen” shirt.

Ingram’s great grandfather, Billy Ingram, started the chain in 1921.

“We’re very focused on making this Castle a success, and we’ll see what the future holds,” Ingram said when asked about the company’s vision for the Sunshine State. “Florida’s obviously a very big state so we’re excited about being here in Central Florida and look forward to our continued relationship.”

 

Fans closer to downtown Orlando looking to eat away from the restaurant might soon be able to get sliders in a different way. White Castle’s ghost kitchen, which does not have a dining room, will most likely reopen in the next six to eight weeks, according to vice president Jamie Richardson.

The ghost kitchen had to abruptly close because of overwhelming demand when it opened in February.

“That amount of time gives us a chance to learn what’s special about the new site in terms of busiest times of day, menu mix and all kinds of other learning we can speculate about now, but there’s no substitute for real-world experience,” he said.

The full restaurant near Disney World employs 140 people, including managers, with wages starting at $13 per hour and increasing after 30 days to $13.50 and then $14 after 90 days.

Santiago and her boyfriend each ordered the restaurant’s 60-slider per customer limit Monday, but the cheeseburgers weren’t all for them.

“I have a ton of friends, and they couldn’t make it here today,” she said. “I’m going to be sharing the wealth today.”

Down the line, Alice Rodriguez arrived at about 5:30 a.m. Monday. The 62-year-old Orlando resident grew up in New Jersey.

“When I was 10 years old, I used to cry for White Castle burgers,” she said. “I just grew up with White Castle burgers, and now that I’m here in Orlando, Florida, with six grandchildren, this is a thrill, thrill, thrill.”

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