White Castle is getting ready to serve its square-shaped sliders on wheels with the planned launch later this month of two food trucks in Louisville, Ky., and Columbus, Ohio, where the company is based. The so-called CraveMobiles will be available only for events at first—that includes weddings, in case either Harold or Kumar are planning to tie the knot—while company officials determine exactly where the trucks will be stationed, says Jamie Richardson, a White Castle vice president. Once regular locations are mapped out, the trucks will likely stay open 24 hours, just like almost all of White Castle’s brick-and-mortar stores. Richardson says the food-truck menu, although not yet finalized, will include three variations on the chain’s signature sliders and might see items not available in stores, such as salty caramel fries.
The ability to easily test new products is part of what prompted White Castle to jump on the food-truck trend that has swept through big U.S. cities in recent years. Richardson described the trucks as a “strategic tool to test new items and look at various sites for new restaurants. We can see how welcoming a neighborhood is” before investing in a new location. It’s also a play for millennial customers, who are frequent customers of White Castle, according to Technomic research, and who have increasingly flocked to food trucks.
White Castle, which is privately held, currently has a few more than 400 restaurants in 12 states, mainly in the Midwest, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, and Tennessee. All locations are company-owned. The chain’s revenue in 2012 was $630 million, of which roughly 15 percent came from its frozen burger line sold in grocery stores, says Richardson.
Other chains have experimented with food trucks as marketing platforms and “rolling test kitchens,” including Wendy’s (WEN), Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell (YUM), Applebee’s (DIN), and Sizzler, as the Huffington Post reported. A National Restaurant Association survey found 6 percent of quick-service restaurants and 4 percent of fast-casual restaurants operated food trucks.
While Richardson does not disclose how much the company has invested in the trucks, he says they have “great potential and are a real worthwhile investment.” White Castle expects the trucks to pay back in less than 18 months. It might depend on how many weddings they book.