ECONOMY – TOUGH TIMES! AMERICANS – BLAME CEOS! CEOS – TO ESCAPE BLAME GO UNDERCOVER AND MAKE BIG SHOW OF CHANGING COMPANIES FOR THE BETTER! SINCERITY – DOUBTFUL!
I trust this man completely.
This week – White Castle! And I did not know this, but it is America’s oldest fast food chain. This changes everything I thought about Ray Kroc… Their CEO, a distinguished looking man who drives a convertible as proof of his excess and riches, will go undercover and at some point, wear a hairnet! Now I love me some White Castle, and I heard through the grapevine that a segment of this episode was shot at a location that I definitely frequented while I was in college. In other words, I’m fucking excited. And already a little bit pissed off that the West Coast seems to think there’s no market here for tiny burgers and chicken rings.
Come on, LA, you know you want it.
So let’s begin with the required learning portion of this episode – White Castle is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio (Woots, Shoutouts, and Go Buckses to all of my friends in the old country!), and has been run by the same family for 88 years. I wonder if there was ever some creepy family scandal involving a firstborn son being killed by a jealous uncle, and the body mysteriously disappearing in and around one of their meatpacking facilities…? Just sayin’, rich people is craaazy.
David Rife is the oldest member of the fourth generation of the Ingram family, and he is the owner of White Castle. Man, I wish I could introduce myself like that. I also wish I could get free White Castle for my entire life. Anyone who reads this, feel free to write to my mom and tell her I have goals, please.
Dave – his last name is Rife… with possibilities.
White Castle had one restaurant in 1921 and they have 421 now. Uniquely, David’s great-grandfather, Bill Ingram, founded the company based on the idea that happy people make for a happy company. And that was in the 20s. I bet Bill Ingram gave a lot of people the finger when business management philosophy got that same idea about 60 years after he did. On to Dave’s family and WHOA that is a LOT of plastic surgery for a Midwest woman!
I keep trying to pick an eye to look in, but I can’t choose…
Dave’s wife, Lynn Rife with uneven facial features, tells us that Dave is very proud to be a part of the White Castle family, and in fact, a few of their early dates were there because he loved to be there so much. Man, I hope they were childhood sweethearts, because if any trust fund kid over the age of 18 tried to wine and dine me with onion chips and fountain soda, he’d be eating my dust as an appetizer.
Dave’s also got two boys who are no doubt growing up under an extreme amount of pressure, and he loves them both to death. He’s also enjoyed his lifestyle, and tells us that in the past two years, he’s undergone a weight loss metamorphosis. We’re shown a picture of him at his heaviest (271lbs), and that image fits way more of what I would expect someone who loves White Castle as much as Dave does to look like.
It’s not so much the weight as the cutoff t-shirt…
Dave says he was a heart attack waiting to happen and has worked very hard over the past couple of years to get in shape, and it took a lot of hard work and dedication. I have no doubt that it did, but this show wants to humanize Dave for me, shots of personal trainers and private gyms ain’t gonna do squat. He’s going to take that same hard work and dedication to his undercover journey, and hopefully make changes on the same scale. His great-grandfather started the company based on the founding principles of integrity, honesty, job security and lip service. Dave wants to go out and make sure those principles are still being upheld. That’s a tall order, Dave, I don’t mind saying.
See, this guy looks like he should own the Outback or something.
If you’ve been paying attention, the required learning section of our episode is just about finished, and it is now time for the requisite board meeting portion of today’s event. But this time it’s called a family meeting, so maybe there’ll be a squabble!
Dave says that no one has any idea what’s going on, which is of course a complete crock of shit, but proceeds as though he doesn’t hear my skepticism. He tells his “family members” (I can’t tell if all of these people are related, or if Dave belongs to a cult and just likes the euphemism) that when they visit stores and plants, they always see the best of the best, so he’s going undercover to see THE REAL WHITE CASTLE. Dave’s brother (the only name the show thinks this second son deserves, apparently) tells him that it’s been 15 years since Dave worked in a restaurant and wonders if he can hack it. Dave says he’s gonna try, and that of course ends the “family meeting” – just as pointless as all the others. CBS needs to cut this segment A fucking SAP.
Me too, Dude, me too.
Time for disguise! Time for disguise! Dave’s cover is going to be… David Allen. Way to slip off the radar, there Dave. Mr. Allen apparently worked for a “heavy equipment company” and was laid off, so he’s looking for entry level work. Who wants to bet that when Dave came up with super-secret identity, visions of Caterpillar forklifts danced in his head? He has facial hair, so that’s out the window, and he looks totally different, too! Man, I wonder if there’s an entire subculture of men who go around wearing fake beards and leading double lives just because they can…
He’s staying in budget motels to complete the package, and he hilariously is the first exec who looks really uncomfortable in his room. Like, the smell literally knocks him back a few steps. He doesn’t sleep very well his first night having been kept awake by nerves and wondering how many prostitutes have worked and died in his room.
Cigarettes and porn, Dave. Cigarettes and porn.
First stop, Hamilton, Ohio, just outside the ‘Nati for those in the know. It’s a new store, so he’s checking it out to make sure everything’s going according to plan. Geenie (pronounced Jenny because she got sick of Major Nelson jokes by about age three) is the general manager, and sets him up with a uniform. Dave tells us that new stores are unique in that they have old employees present to get the ball rolling, but also new employees being groomed to take over once the store’s on its feet. He wants to see how this incredibly overstaffed fast food joint is working. Geenie introduces Dave to his coworkers, and does pretty well until she gets about three names in, but then can’t name a single employee without help. Oh, poor Candace and Lowanna. I’d have remembered you. Finally we get to Donna, who will be training Dave for the day, but she has a hard time keeping his attention as he can’t help but notice the absolute chaos that is created when there are 20 people doing a job that could easily be done by me and some adderol. Dave complains that it’s way too much direction for one new employee to absorb, and the brilliant editors of this show choose this moment to show us Geenie taking over Dave’s training for a minute to show him how to wipe down a table. I don’t know what’s less efficient – the fact that she’s actually wasting time to show Dave how to do this, or the fact that she insists he use two towels.
Wipe on, wipe off.
As if to remind everyone how simple this job is, Geenie chooses this time to ask Dave why he decided to get into fast food. Completely unable to come up with a plausible answer like, “I really had no other option, and I’m willing to do anything to feed my kids,” Dave mumbles something to the effect of wanting to explore something new and White Castle seeming like a good company. Dave should be a spy. Geenie agrees that it’s a good company, but complains that when they open a new store, they are so overstaffed that it’s frustrating. SHE THEN REVEALS THAT THERE ARE 60 -70 PEOPLE WORKING AT HER STORE. A PLACE THAT IS SMALLER THAN MY THREE-BEDROOM APARTMENT. Bet Dave Rife With Personnel Allocation Issues is wishing he’d done a better job with his cover. Geenie goes even further in pointing out that obviously no one is happy with their job because they are constantly being told different things, but she can’t do anything about it. Dave admits that the “extra help” is a terrible, terrible idea and resolves to fix it. I’ll be he waits the whole week to do that. I’ll bet he never even looks at his cell phone with the thought of going off somewhere for five minutes to tell corporate to reassign like, 50 of those extraneous people. Bet I’m right.
Dave is returned to Donna, who’s worked at White Castle for 20 years, and they go on break. She asks him if he wants lunch, and he gleefully points to some burgers, whilst responsibly holding off on the fries. Donna admires his willpower (Donna’s standards for willpower are quite low), and reveals that she’s dealt with her own overeating issues – to the point where she had a heart attack seven years ago because of them. Oooh, think Dave’s next nickname is going to be Mr. Rife with guilt…
Dave’s convertible has taken the place of his fried foods. Don’t feel bad, Donna. Bet if you had millions of dollars, you could indulge in healthier vices, too.
My ego is stroked as Donna launches into full-on Horrible No Good Very Bad Life Story involving a husband on disability who counts on her being the sole breadwinner, and wonders aloud fairly frequently it seems, what he would ever do if something happened to her. Fetish porn? Donna sincerely believes that she is not set up to live a long life, and it’s very stressful and scary. Dave is touched by her because that’s exactly what he’s supposed to do, and was surprised to be so affected because he thought the whole journey was going to be a procedural where he gathered information and nothing else. Dave Rife With Brand New Feelings doesn’t watch a lot of sappy-ass reality television.
Job 2 – night shift, Indiana bakery (growls, snaps, boos and hisses to you, trashiest of neighbor states!). It’s Dave’s second shift in one day, so I’m sure he’ll be sleepy and screw up something epic. Plus it’s factory labor – and ALL suck at factory labor! White Castle bakes their own buns, but since Dave hasn’t had to give a shit about the bakeries until now, he knows nothing about how they operate or what he’s getting into – YES!! Steve Martin (baker, not funny) is Dave’s trainer for the job, and he looks good-natured and kind.
It will not take long I think for him to look very different.
He shows Dave the “bag change,” which will be his task, and it looks pretty simple, so Dave probably doesn’t have a chance in Hell of pulling it off with any kind of dexterity.
Essentially, a mechanism pushes buns down a line, another mechanism holds a plastic bag open, and the human mechanism guides the buns into the bag. Steve makes this shit look as simple as walking and blinking at the same time, but of course, Dave manages to ruin something like 4800 buns in his trial as a bag changer. I will say, though, in Dave Rife With Shame’s defense, I can’t for the life of me tell what he’s doing wrong. When I said Steve made it look simple, I was not kidding, so how he manages to screw up so badly, I don’t know, but the job must be harder than it looks. It is really funny to watch him get incredibly frustrated over thousands of poor, little White Castle buns that will never see the light of day.
Told you he’d look different!
Steve interviews that Dave kept asking what he was doing wrong, and all Steve could answer was, “A lot!” Steve’s not great at expressing his feelings. All of his frustrations melt away at the end of the day when he can take Dave off the line and let him know that the 20-22 cases of buns that were destroyed during Dave’s tenure as bag changer will go to a hog farmer. Steve pats Dave on the back and says that he fed the pigs well today. Dave looks like he’s sick of Steve touching him.
Back at the motel, Dave gabs on about how he’s not good at making mistakes, and he needs to learn to deal with that better. Apparently the only thing he gained from that little operation was self-knowledge, not the fact that Steve maybe could use some training on how to be a trainer. Just sayin’.
Job 3! Dave’s on another night shift, this time at a store, both to test the efficacy and necessity of staying open 24 hours (holy crap, my and like, every college student on the planet’s heart just skipped a beat), and whether or not employees are following their handbook, which apparently took a lot of time and money to create. Dave hopes they appreciate that there’s a little book that tells them just how and when to go to the bathroom in case they forget.
AND THE RUMORS WERE TRUE – COVINGTON! HOLLA!!!
The night shift takes place at a, you guessed it, White Castle I have patronized many, many times in Covington, Kentucky (right across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio)! God I love being famous! Dave introduces himself to Tina, the assistant manager, whom I’ve totally sold cigarettes to at one point or another, and she shows him around. He gets started on the grill, and immediately is corrupted by an evil temptress named Darlene!
Don’t be fooled…
Darlene shows Dave how to stack burgers and straight up tells him to do it the wrong way, with pickles on top of cheese. She explains proudly that it’s not the big boss way, that it’s her way, and it’s easier and faster. How simply putting the pickle on the bun before the cheese would be so much more difficult is quite far beyond me, but that bag changer looked pretty easy, and I was pretty wrizzong about that, so I’m giving Darlene the benefit of the doubt. However, for all her bravado, she is worried about getting in trouble as she shows him other tricks of the trade (none of which are explained, mind you. I for one would kind of like to know just what kind of shortcuts my fast food purveyors are fond of.). Tina justifies those concerns by sneaking up right then and whispering to Dave not to “pick up any bad habits.”
I feel like what with Tina being manager and all, she could have just told Darlene to stop fucking with the new guy, but maybe that’s just not Tina’s way…
Dave is a little displeased at Darlene’s rampant rule-breaking, as the procedures the home office puts into place are there to ensure a uniform product. But before his OCD comes out full force and he can rearrange all of the burgers when Darlene’s back is turned, Tina asks to see him. She’s pretty concerned about the people he’s chosen to associate with recently, and tells him that he never knows who’s watching. They flash to a creepy camera who’s tape is probably just thrown away when it was confirmed the store wasn’t robbed blind any time that month, but Tina implies that if White Castle procedures are not followed, the Watchers will come and fire anyone they see breaking the rules. Dave is a little taken aback by the genuine high stakes that come with Tina’s job, and is even more shocked to find out that she lives in fear of losing her job every single day. Damn, no wonder she smokes.
Dave resolves to do something about the culture of fear his employees live in, considering job security was one of the founding principles of White Castle. I think better hidden cameras is Job One there, Dave Rife With Failing Ideas.
Aah, now the rush and Dave’s on the drive-through. I smell fuck up!! Tina says it’s pretty much non-stop from 10pm to 3am, and he proudly interviews that’s White Castles are beacons to people who just can’t get enough of “those little steam grilled burgers.” Nor can they get enough beer or weed, without which I highly doubt White Castle’s numbers would be as high as they are… Tina assigns Dave to work with Joe on the drive through, and Joe is cheerful and good-natured, so I am not at all surprised to find out that his son is blind. The dynamic duo bumbles through the rush hour trying to translate slurred special requests to comprehensible orders. Joe schools Dave in the proper attitude of friendliness and speed with which customers should be dealt with. Dave is incredibly impressed with Joe’s mad drive-through skills, and Joe hilariously agrees that it takes a special kind of person to do drive-through. I like Joe, but I have a feeling that it’s not so much special people, but more than one hour’s practice that is needed to rock that job. Dave doesn’t appear to agree with me, and I can already see him mentally worshipping the ground Joe walks on.
Oh, Joe, yet another subject on this show mistakenly telling the world that optimism and a good attitude will get you far at work.
Next stop, Chicago! Having been inspired by Joe, Dave sets out to make sure that on Job 4 he pays attention to the young people who work for him and help them understand the VAST opportunities a job at White Castle will provide. First possible mentorship candidate – Jose! A 17 year-old team member who helps Dave take deliveries at the location. Jose is totally the definition of a nice young man with a good head on his shoulders. His dream is to become a chef one day and to open his own restaurant. Now, that sounds like the kind of “dream” most high school seniors with not a clue what to expect out of the world would put on a college application, but seriously, this kid is driven. Dave asks him if he has the opportunity to pursue his dream at White Castle (and he’s serious, which is cute), but Jose politely explains that he wants to achieve his goals on his own. This kid’s ambition at 17 punches my 17 year-old ambition in the nads and walks away victorious. Seriously, the most I thought about owning when I was that age was probably a Complete Works of William Shakespeare so I could be just as cool as all the other theater kids.
Jose invites Dave to join him for lunch, and they grab some burgers to go with the homemade salsa Jose has brought to work. Way to go, Jose. You’ve just told the owner of White Castle that you would prefer not to eat his food, and grow up to be his competition. If only Dave’s cover wasn’t so airtight! The two eat and talk some more, and when Dave is allowed to try the magic salsa that I’m sure every kid in Jose’s family has been making since they learned how to use their opposable thumbs, he is blown the fuck away like he’s never had salsa verde in his whole goddamn life, and the fourth person this episode is elevated to sainthood in his mind. Not that Donna, Tina, Joe and Jose don’t deserve it, but I think Dave’s might be just a little bit of a pushover.
I’m sure it’s delicious, but it’s fucking salsa verde. Make this kid come up with his own mole and we’ll talk impressing me.
Final job – frozen foods factory! Oooh, and I think I see a rapidly moving conveyor belt just a-waitin’ to get thrown out of whack! Dave explains that the frozen food allows White Castle to provide product to us poor souls who live outside their region, and he’s at the factory to check up on both the morale and the productivity of the employees. He also says the first honest thing this episode when he says that his grandfather founded the company based on happy employees, but that happy employees should also be productive employees. Dave! I’m so excited to learn that you don’t have your head SO far up your great-grandfather’s ass that you can still see that he wanted all the happy workers he could have, not necessarily because he cared, but because happy people work hard and don’t bitch as much.
Dave is greeted at the door by Brenda, an assistant supervisor, who is practically standing at attention she loves that title so much. She mildly busts his ass for being a little late, then introduces him to her resentful, non-recently promoted coworkers.
I’m willing to be that Vicki wishes she were shoveling little Brenda burgers down the line…
Dave and Vicki pair up to slide two burgers at a time into slots on a ridiculously fast conveyor belt, and of course, Dave fails miserably. Vicki’s a little confused and not very helpful, and I’m guessing that had something to do with the fact that she probably didn’t know she’d be training someone for no extra pay today. I’m guessing that was probably Brenda’s job…
Vicki and Dave quit the line to take a break, and I immediately start wondering what particular brand of injustice Vicki will introduce us to. She tells Dave that morale in the eight years she’s been working there has plummeted along with productivity and quality control. She accuses the supervisors of not helping out ever, and says that she and her coworkers are tired of picking up the slack. Normally, this kind of thing wouldn’t alarm me, but Vicki’s got some crazy eyes going on, and I’m kind of terrified of the day she finally snaps and shoves someone into the flash freezer.
Dave correctly deduces that Vicki is “unhappy,” and that it was hard to hold himself back from fixing her problem right then and there.
Probably not as hard as it will be to back to that line, though, eh, Dave?
Brenda directs Dave to Bonita who is working the “Cheese Inspection Line.” I love cheese. I would be terrible at that job, and all the cheese would be in my mouth as I deliberately misunderstood my assignment. Dave Rife With Butterfingers does about as well as I would at straightening cheese on burgers as they flow down the line, but he’s too much of a goody-goody to eat any of it. Bonita and Vicki try frantically to help him out as he singlehandedly makes their day way tougher than it needed to be. But, instead of blaming that on his incredibly disruptive undercover whim, he blames Brenda, who aimlessly walks about sipping a Pepsi and doing nothing to help the team. Big mistake, Brenda. Big mistake. Tina was right, you never know who’s watching… Dave vows to make it clear to her that she’s not doing an acceptable job and I can’t wait to see how that goes over.
Dave spends his last night in the motel thinking about everything he’s learned and how proud the White Castle owners of bygone days of wine and roses are looking down upon him with approval. Which he wants so much more than making any of these people happy it’s almost painful to watch. Thank goodness their happiness is parallel to his as opposed to perpendicular.
Journey’s end sees Dave back to Columbus ready to lay down some sort of law about overstaffing stores, terrified employees and slacking supervisors. I gotta be honest, I had to look hard for the stakes in this episode. Seems like Whitey’s is doing pretty A-Okay on most fronts. Pointless boardroom meeting sees Dave with the usual CEO monologue about one or two specific things that need to be improved, the usual one softball question from a boardmember, and finally, a determined sentence from the boss about how things will change! Slightly!
Thank goodness that’s over, and we’re on to the big Santa Claus reveal to the employees! Donna, Jose, Joe, Tina, Vicki and Brenda roll up in limos and of course make the requisite, “Am I getting fired?” jokes. Jokes generally convey actual nervousness, and I wish I could be next to them all on this journey to ask them if a company has ever driven them a few hundred miles in a limo to let them know their services were no longer needed. But I’m not there, so everyone continues to mentally pee their pants. Donna giggles adorably when Dave tells her who he is, and Joe straight up asks if he’s getting punked. Kind of, Joe, but not in the way you probably think.
Joe and I share a signature move.
Dave tells Donna that a lot of people depend on her, and that she’s inspired him to institute a “wellness program” in her region, so White Castle can become a healthier organization. Donna cries and says she’s glad there are people in the world like Dave. I don’t know what she’s so fucking happy about. What the hell is a wellness program? What exactly is Dave going to do “make” his employees healthier? I’m not saying I’m against the plan, but Donna could be crying over required fitness tests and macrobiotic employee meals for all she knows.
Onto Jose, who’s determination and salsa-making skills so impressed Dave in Chicago. Dave wants to help Jose achieve his dreams, so he’s going to introduce the young man to the White Castle culinary team (those are some guys I would pay to meet) and also put $5000 into a scholarship for Jose’s higher education. It’s a testament to how hard life probably is for Jose, that his reaction to this offer is so extreme. Jose’s probably starved for a pat on the freaking back from his parents, and in five minutes, Dave just handed him all the love and support that’s been missing from his life for years. I want to punch myself in the face because I am so genuinely moved by Jose’s reaction that I can’t even make a proper joke about how he’s crying really hard over what won’t even cover his books and supplies for his first semester.
Seriously, this kid is fucking endearing.
Brenda and Vicki! Brenda and Vicki! Wow. What removing facial hair does for men, removing hairnets does for women.
I probably should have expected some kind of mullet from Brenda, but I was too busy judging her for slacking.
Vicki looks pretty lovely, but that pissed off, hopeless and annoyed face is still plastered tightly into place. Dave explains to them that he wasn’t pleased with the way things were done at the freezer factory, and asks Vicki point blank what she wants out of a good supervisor. Vicki, who must be so sick and tired at this point that she doesn’t give a FUCK about what kind of job she goes home to, snots that she would like someone who helped out as opposed to standing around or hanging out in the breakroom. My hope for Brenda’s eternal soul increases as she does look pretty kowtowed by Vicki’s unfavorable review of her services, and only defends herself in the meanest sense. She claims that she does help out a lot, but sometimes there’s a chance for the supervisors to take little breaks, and she indulges. She also doesn’t want the lineworkers to depend on the supervisors, which is also a good point, if she weren’t scrambling quite so obviously to save her tiny heiny.
Dave wants the two women to work together to build teamwork, and he wants Brenda to listen to Vicki more. He makes them pinky swear (practically) to be better humans to each other and they agree on pain of a follow-up visit. Sheesh, everyone was cheated by this segment. Vicki got an empty promise, Brenda got railroaded, and I got a hairstyle as the most entertaining thing in the room. Bullshit.
And since Joe had the most harrowing story of the evening, we end with him. Dave gifts him with a vague program called Leaders for Tomorrow, and wants Joe to be in the first class as well as help write the curriculum. I wish I could give you more detail, but that is literally all the show saw fit for us to know about this mysterious, mysterious “program.” Dave also gives Joe $5000 to spend on his son, but should have been a little more specific that the money was for his handicapped needs because the first thing Joe talks about after the interview is how they’re heading to a massive toy store.
No, I’m not going to make fun a blind kid.
Dave hits the stage to speechify about his experience and pretty much uses the same words he used when he addressed the family for the first time: “When we go to White Castle, we see the best of the best, I went undercover to see reality!” kind of thing. Donna, Joe, Jose, Vicki, Brenda and Steve(!) are all in the audience, and laugh hysterically at the blooper reel they always show to accompany Dave’s probably empty promises about changes that will be made to the company. Dave’s family is there and his sons look proud of him, but his wife looks like an alien.
Dave takes pictures with the employees and blahs that he will no longer just sit behind a desk and make decisions based on numbers, that he’ll keep in mind the people he met and was inspired by on his journey. That depends entirely on how depressing those numbers look, Dave, and you know it. As for everyone else, Jose’s title cards tell us that he’s applying for college, White Castle scholarship in hand. Vicki and Brenda’s say their “working together” and that doing so has both increased morale and productivity. That sounds eerily like a croc of shit to me, but I’ll give Vicki the benefit of the doubt. Donna’s participating in the creation of the wellness program which is still so undefined even the show didn’t capitalize it. She’s also working toward her weight loss goal, and I hope she makes it. Finally, Joe – he’s working on the “Leaders of Tomorrow” curriculum and the money Dave gave him is helping out with his son’s education.
I guess Steve just got a free trip to Columbus.