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White Castle Eyes New Restaurant at Historic South Loop Intersection

By David Matthews | August 21, 2015 1:52pm | Updated on August 25, 2015 10:59am
 White Castle wants to tear down an existing store at Cermak Road and Wabash Avenue for a new restaurant. The decision is largely driven by the new Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line stop that opened in February next door. 
White Castle South Loop
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SOUTH LOOP — White Castle wants to tear down its restaurant at a prominent South Loop corner in favor of a new store, a plan that hatched when a busy Green Line stop opened in February next door. 

There's no timeline yet for the new White Castle at 2140 S. Wabash Ave., which would also sit across the street from a landmarked former White Castle building on Cermak Road, Company District Supervisor Darrin Cotton said.

But staff at the existing restaurant at Cermak and Wabash hope the plan moves quickly.

"We’ve been looking for this new building for awhile, since the Green Line stop opened," said Richard Ealy, general manager of the White Castle at 2140 S. Wabash. "Hopefully it can be done by next year."

Cotton declined to elaborate on the company's plans, which have yet to be submitted for city approval. But he believes a new store would merely require demolition and building permits, instead of a zoning change or other maneuvers that are more scrutinized by public officials.

The White Castle currently at 2140 S. Wabash is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but merely has a drive-thru and small patio instead of indoor seats. It is one of five White Castles open in the city. 

A landmarked former White Castle nearby at 43 E. Cermak. [DNAinfo/David Matthews]

The change would occur at a historic intersection for the fast food chain. A former White Castle built in 1930 nearby at 43 E. Cermak was landmarked by the city in 2011. Then, city officials said the building was the "best-surviving example" here of a White Castle, which popularized hamburgers in America and is considered the "father" of this country's fast-food chains. Chicago was once home to many more White Castles, most of them on the city's south and west sides, and the chain's founder once said he loosely modeled his restaurants' distinctive designs on the Old Water Tower on Michigan Avenue. 

Prior to White Castle's 1920s founding in Kansas, hamburgers were discarded by most Americans as "carnival food" that resembled meatball sandwiches lumped between cold slices of bread. But the chain popularized the food with its thin patties, onions and warm buns grilled quickly in front of customers in clean-looking, white-glazed restaurants. The 43 E. Cermak store, the 16th in the company's history, was built for $4,500 during the depths of the Great Depression. 

White Castle's plans also mark the latest development following the new Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line station, which the city opened in February in hopes of drawing more investment to the neighborhood surrounding Chicago's marquee convention center. Another big South Loop project, a 1,206-room Marriott hotel next to McCormick Place, broke ground last month. 

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