White Castle has somehow or other built a cult following. People love their cheap little square hamburgers. We have family that live in places without a White Castle, and the first thing they want to do when they come visit us is run and get some. I just don't get it. I usually avoid eating there at all costs. But it seems that cult following has helped it spill over into retail, with White Castle shirts becoming popular with those who love that retro old school look.
Analysts describe the 83-year-old White Castle's appeal as kitschy, and say loyalty to the brand stretches beyond the 10 mostly Midwestern states where the Columbus chain operates. Many expatriates of cities such as Detroit, Chicago and New York take with them fond memories of eating the diminutive hamburgers in the wee hours of the morning.
Norfolk said she was surprised to find that the shirts sell well at Filene's Boston-area stores even though there isn't a White Castle within 50 miles of the city. Scott Morton, a buyer for Hot Topic, said the shirts also have sold in his chain's West Coast stores.
T-shirt maker Earthtones has sold between $750,000 and $1 million in White Castle shirts, blue ski hats and blue wristbands since January, according to owner Larry Levine. He said the clothing is among the most lucrative merchandise for the company, which also makes T-shirts featuring John Deere, Lionel trains, Jim Beam whiskey and 4-H.
"There is a cult phenomenon around White Castle. It's one of those retail brands that has a story to it," said Lois Huff, senior vice president for Retail Forward, a Columbus firm that researches clothing retailers. "Most restaurants are not like that."
This is a strange brand dynamic for a fast food company. Especially one whose main product isn't really that great to those of us who have it available 24/7.