Styx Frontman Tommy Shaw’s Love of Sliders Became White Castle’s Latest Marketing Riff

Veteran rocker joins list of celebrity inductees to the burger chain's hall of fame

tommy shaw
Shaw has been with Styx since 1975, but he's been a White Castle fan even longer. White Castle/Getty Images
Headshot of Robert Klara

Among the many stereotypes about being a rock star is how difficult life can be on the road. Just ask guitarist Tommy Shaw.

As the frontman for the Styx, a band that packed arenas in the 1970s and ’80s, Shaw has endured his share of bleak hotel rooms, drafty tour buses and institutional food. And it looked like he’d be in for another of those meals a number of years back when Shaw and his bandmates attended an awards dinner at a hotel in Nashville.

But for whatever reason, Shaw just wasn’t standing for it this time. Instead, he decided to send a friend on a fast-food run and sneak the goods back into the ballroom. The mission succeeded, allowing the 67-year-old, moppy-haired guitarist to eat what he really wanted that night: a pack of sliders from White Castle.

As the gossip sites will attest, even celebrities who can afford personal chefs and four-star restaurants do succumb to the occasional fast-food craving. Beyoncé has a weakness for In-N-Out’s burgers and fries (with Champagne, apparently), Justin Timberlake’s been spotted at Taco Bell, and Canadian-born Justin Bieber likes Tim Hortons, natch.

This kind of fandom has more recently resulted in collaborations like Dunkin’s cold brew beverage The Charli, named after TikTok queen Charli D’Amelio, and McDonald’s Travis Scott Meal. The popularity of these promotions hinged on customers getting to order the exact same items that their idols do in real life.

White Castle is playing a variation on that theme when it comes to Shaw—and a couple of other veterans from the music business—by inducting him into its Cravers Hall of Fame. As the name suggests, this is an honor roll of White Castle devotees that the chain keeps on its website. Most of them are ordinary Joes who will go to demonstrable extremes to get White Castle food.

Zelisko (in red bandanna) joined Shaw (with guitar) and Fiona Prine earlier this week on a Facebook segment.

But starting in 2002, the chain began inducting public figures, too. This is how the likes of Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, former House speaker John Boehner and shock-rock godfather Alice Cooper made it in.

“It’s probably one of the most all-American things that there is, White Castles,” Cooper said during his formal induction in 2014. “I feel like it’s the one product that hasn’t changed over all the years. Everything tastes differently now. But White Castle tastes exactly the same.”

In the realm of fast food, consistency like that is a virtue.

Earlier this week, the 99-year-old restaurant chain lifted the velvet rope for Shaw, along with longtime concert promoter Danny Zelisko and the late singer-songwriter John Prine, who died in April from complications of Covid-19. Prine’s wife Fiona accepted on his behalf.

A hall of fame for fans of a burger chain would edge dangerously close to parody were it not for the actual stories behind the fans. And White Castle, wisely, has documented everything.

Prine, for example, once brought White Castle lunches for everyone aboard the private jet of a fan who’d flown to Kansas City to pick him up. Shaw isn’t the only member of Styx who’s a White Castle devotee—the rest of the band reportedly are, too.

Shaw (l.) and Zelisko have been known to chow down on White Castle after concerts.

As for Zelisko, his long career promoting acts including Nirvana, Bon Jovi, Cheap Trick and The Police has taken him all over the country. And since White Castle has upwards of 370 locations, he’s been able to bag some sliders nearby without much trouble. In a statement, Zelisko even likened being in White Castle’s hall of fame to “getting the Medal of Freedom.” (In fairness, it’s a bit easier to get onto White Castle’s honor roll than the president’s.)


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@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.
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