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This Is the Oldest Fast-Food Chain In America

It predates McDonald's by two decades.

If you go by certain numbers, White Castle is a relatively minor player in the overall landscape of fast-food restaurants. It has fewer than 400 locations spread across just 13 states, compared to a staggering footprint of 37,800 McDonald's restaurants, which can be found in almost every country on earth. White Castle's total annual revenue for 2018 was around $556 million, while Wendy's generated some $1.59 billion that year. And while White Castle employs about 10,000 people, Subway, the world's largest restaurant chain, has an estimated 384,000 employees around the globe.

But there is one number no other chain can touch: years in business. White Castle was founded in 1921 and will celebrate 100 years of burgers, fries, and other fast food next year. It is arguably the oldest fast-food chain not just in America, but in the world. And their signature item, the small, square slider, has withstood the test of time, changing very little since it debuted on the menu at five cents a pop. (Related: McDonald's Is Making These 8 Major Upgrades.)

White Castle predates McDonald's by 19 years, the burger giant being founded in 1940. It also predates Burger King, or Insta-Burger King, as it used to be called, as well as KFC, Sonic, and Whataburger, all of which opened up during the fast food boom in the 1950s.

Despite its modest location count, it is the oldest chain restaurant in America. And anyway, the limited number of locations is entirely intentional and by design, not based on the lack of interest from would-be franchisees.

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Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more about Steven
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