White Castle, the American fast-food chain famous for its small, square-shaped beef patties, or sliders, has been experimenting with a vegetarian version of its signature menu item all year. The new veggie sliders had been set to go on sale at all White Castle locations on Jan. 1, but the company has decided to unleash the new sliders two days early, and is making them available today.
Those who didn’t know that White Castle had been engineering a vegetarian option reacted to the news with shock and awe—as if the notion of a plant-based burger at America’s oldest hamburger chain just doesn’t compute.
White Castle VP Jamie Richardson tells Quartz that the rationale for adding veggie sliders to the menu was about making sure that, when a group of friends goes to White Castle, there’s something for everybody.
“Going to White Castle is often a group activity,” he says. “Our thought was let’s give [the vegetarians] something to eat other than french fries.”
The 2004 comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle revolved around the premise of two young stoners seeking out White Castle sliders to cure a case of the munchies—that scenario wouldn’t have worked if one of the characters had been one of the 16 million Americans who are vegetarian. Actor Kal Penn, who played the role of Kumar, actually is a vegetarian, and reportedly consumed veggie sliders instead of the beef ones while shooting the film. The veggie sliders debuting today will bear no relation to the ones used on the Harold and Kumar set, Richardson told the Columbus Dispatch in September.
White Castle’s veggie sliders are made by Dr. Praeger’s, a health food company based in New Jersey.
White Castle, a family-owned business based in Columbus, Ohio, chose to work with Dr. Praeger’s because it’s family-owned, too, says Richardson. The sliders sell for 99 cents, which is slightly more expensive than the beef ones, which are priced closer to 75 cents in most markets.
Each White Castle restaurant has a special grill just for the veggie sliders, with green spatulas that aren’t supposed to touch any other food. Customers can choose one of three sauces to go with them: honey mustard, ranch, or sweet Thai. Richardson’s favorite is sweet Thai, but he also thinks the sliders taste great with no sauce at all: They are “really, really flavorful and mighty tasty,” he says.
The hope is that they also will appeal to customers, and in particular to millennials, whom Richardson describes as having shown “an interest in more menu options and variety.”