Sitting down with Jason Poon at White Castle for the first time feels more like catching up with an old friend from college. And it’s not because the Jing'an location is decked out with diner booths, or gives you unlimited access to the soda machine. With his easy-going approach to managing the restaurant’s daily business, you might be surprised to know Jason is running the China operations for one of the most significant fast food brands in the world.
“I was born in Hong Kong, but spent years growing up in the States. After graduating, I started working in finance and relocated to China. I was at a private equity firm, focusing on F&B investments. My boss at the time got in touch with White Castle in the US and thought it would be a good idea to bring them over to China. That’s how I ended up on this project.”
What exactly is behind White Castle’s global success? Is it really the stoner comedy about Harold and Kumar trying to get their hands on the signature square-shaped sliders? There’s more to the story, Jason explains.
“White Castle is the first fast-food chain ever. Nobody else has that claim. Secondly, I think our product is different. We do a very small burger and you eat multiple for a meal. It’s also more compatible with Chinese dining habits. People like to share a bunch of things. One thing for sure… We’re not as corporate. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. You can see it from the way we communicate with the customers!"
To win over foodies in Shanghai, White Castle has customized their menu with newcomers like Mapo Tofu Slider and Peking Duck Slider, adapting to local taste buds. While this may be an obvious strategy to many foreign companies, White Castle has 96 years of history to consider.
“There are challenges in bringing over a new brand to China. For example, importing goods and sourcing the right ingredients. The struggle for us was that White Castle is a family-owned business. The current president of the company is a fourth generation owner. They’ve never done any franchising or had any outside investments in the company. For them to trust a partner to bring a concept into a foreign market was the biggest challenge. We had to get everyone on board.”
Having opened a second branch in Changning, Jason sets out ambitious plans for the future. This includes extending the opening hours on the weekend to feed the post-party crowds, catering NFL parties and being present at music festivals around town. “If we can, we’ll try cooking burgers on site for the best results and get more people into our food.”
Being only a tap away on Sherpa's delivery platforms? We’re already quite into it.
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4 x Double Cheese Slider = ¥̶1̶0̶4̶ ¥80
Bundaberg in the Castle - Meal for Two = ¥̶2̶0̶0̶ ¥168
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