• VIDEO: Click here to hear Stu Gonzales talk about his White Castle adventure.
Stu Gonzales first pulled a rental car into the parking lot of a White Castle restaurant — you know, the fast-food joint with the hamburger sliders — around midnight in Cleveland in July 2010.
It turned out that this particular White Castle was in a not-so-hot neighborhood.
“I ate in the parking lot by myself with my car running,” Gonzales said. “Some people started coming toward me and I took off. Then I realized once I got on the Interstate there were a bunch more White Castles in safer areas. I felt pretty silly stopping at the one in East Cleveland.”
But it must have been fate, or else a really good slider, because that stop led to the La Vista man's induction into the White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame on Thursday. It started a two-year, 15-part, 10,000-mile road trip around the country so Gonzales could eat at every White Castle in the United States.
That's 420, to be exact.
Gonzales started what he calls his “missions” in 2010. He was 29 years old and took a month off from his job at PayPal for a road trip. He stopped in Cleveland on the way back from Niagara Falls. After the Cleveland stop, he decided to visit singer Michael Jackson's childhood home in Gary, Ind., and realized that city had White Castles. So he stopped again.
When he got home, he researched the closest White Castle to Omaha. It was in St. Louis. He rented a car and drove there. His journey snowballed after that.
“I kept trying to talk myself out of going to every White Castle in the country,” he said. “But I just fell in love with it.”
Gonzales liked White Castle burgers before he started on his adventure — he'd eat the frozen sliders you can get at local grocery stores. But the fresh ones were better.
And contrary to what you might think, he didn't gain weight. Instead, he lost 35 pounds. He said he started to concentrate on his health long before his mission began and that has contributed to his weight loss.
On his travels, he took a “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”-themed lunch box featuring characters from the 2004 movie. He bought it on a whim at a Baltimore comic shop before his White Castle quest ever started, and had it in his closet at home. Suddenly, he had a use for it.
He traveled solo, always in a rental car, taking snapshots of each White Castle. He'd put a sign in the photo showing what city he was in and which location he was visiting.
He didn't just eat sliders, though he estimates that had more than 400 of the mini-burgers. White Castle is famous for its sliders: Steam grilled beef topped with chopped onions and pickles.
Gonzales rotated through the restaurant's menu, choosing one item at each stop.
He said he visited anywhere from 10 to 15 restaurants a day. Gonzales had company on only one trip, to the grand opening of a White Castle in Whitehall, Pa., and an outlet in New Jersey.
Gonzales contacted White Castle to tell them his story, and the company decided his journey was more than worthy of a spot in the hall of fame. More than 700 other people also applied. White Castle collected their stories in May as part of a call for entries. The judges chose Gonzales along with 10 other inductees based on their brand loyalty, creative presentation, originality and “magnitude of the crave.”
Gonzales and the other inductees went to Columbus, Ohio, for the induction ceremony Thursday and toured the company's home office. A reception and dinner followed at the Ohio Historical Society.
You might think that Gonzales has had enough White Castle, but that's not the case. And he'll still have to hit the road to satisfy his craving. White Castle doesn't have any plans to expand into Nebraska, said Erin Shannon, spokesperson for the chain.
“But never say never,” she said.
The company started the hall of fame in 2001, and since then, 9,545 people have applied. Gonzales is the only member who has eaten at every restaurant.
He's building a website, thenumberonecraver.com, where he plans to share hundreds of photos and stories from his journeys. He plans to get the White Castle logo tattooed on his upper arm.
And the missions will continue.
“I'd like to do one trip at the end of each year to keep up on the new White Castles that have opened,” he said. “Maybe someday I'll make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.”
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