'Undercover Boss' at White Castle: It's good to inherit the company; not so good if you have to work there

This week’s Undercover Boss offered abundant evidence that big businesses inherited by family members can be a bad idea. Dave Rife, a great-grandson of the founder of the White Castle hamburger chain, began the hour in the standard Boss format — by telling his executives that he was going undercover. But instead of a board-room table ringed with attentive business-people, a gaggle of indifferently-attired relatives clomped in to what looked like a hotel ballroom to hear what their brother/nephew/uncle/whatever Dave planned to do. This, along with footage of Dave tooling around in a sporty red car saying he has “a lot of toys,” set the sour tone for this week.

Sure enough, Dave encountered poorly-managed stores staffed (in some cases over-staffed) by low-morale employees. The boss endured the usual Undercover embarrassments: he couldn’t keep up on the hamburger-bun assembly line or the cheese-straightening-on-the-cheeseburger assembly line. We were told Dave ruined 4,800 buns. Earlier, he had commented, “I have not had a great deal of time to spend in our bakeries.” Gee, no time, when we saw you riding in your sports car and dropping pounds with a trainer? You had the time, Dave; you just didn’t give a damn until the Boss camera crew came a-callin’.

Saturday Night Live‘s spoof of Undercover Boss gave us better bosses than Rife.

This was the third Boss in a row to deal with a food-related business, so some repetition has set in. But the tweaks Dave Rife proposed before returning to the wealthy lifestyle he did nothing to earn beyond being born into it seemed measly even by Undercover Boss standards. An employee who’d survived a serious heart attack was told the company would start a “wellness program.” Thanks, Dave! Hard-working Jose, who dreams of going to culinary school and introduces Dave to some of his own recipe salsa that tastes great on White Castle burgers, gets a $5,000 scholarship. Thanks, Dave! Couldn’t the boss at least have promised to test-market Jose’s salsa in some of his stores?

And Joe, an incredibly dexterous, charming man who works a dizzyingly busy night-shift drive-up window, is told he’ll help start a “leaders of tomorrow” program (yawn) and, because he has a son who’s “visually impaired,” a $5,000 check. Why do I suspect five grand is what Dave spends detailing his sports car every few months?

I began the hour kinda wanting a White Castle slider or two. By the end, I wanted to fire Dave and his entire entitled family, and put Jose and Joe in charge of the whole company.

How about you?

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Comments (129 total) Add your comment
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  • Carolyn

    I agree. He sould have offered that boy a full scholarship to culinary school, and give the drive through guy a big promotion. How about offering the stressed out heart attack victim a vacation to a spa. And the factory workers were less than thrilled at his suggestion. It was a poor showing for White Castle management. And what was with all the bathroom and shirtless footage?

    • Anonymous

      it almost became a game; how many times can the man take off his shirt?

    • Steve

      Hey Carolyn, did you see, he lost a lot of weight, and wants everybody to see that? Sad on his part.

      • Sara

        Oh m’gosh, he should’ve spent another $5k getting that extra skin removed.

    • alij

      What’s even more offensive is the Undercover Boss’s rapidly formulaic approach e.g. always finding the one person in a company of thousands with a massive health crisis and milking it for all it’s worth to a degree that puts Extreme Home Makeover to shame — and then rewarding these hearty soles with some paltry prize. How about promoting one of these home grown heros to managerial level instead of patting them on the head. But what insults our intelligence most of all – is how about firing one someone who justly deserves it – like the guy from Hooters who made his female employees slurp beans to go home early!!! In the real world he would (or should) have been thrown right out the door not to mention that those waitresses now have a sexual harassment suit any attorney would drool for – but instead we get a touchy feely moment of this gigantic a** promising to do better. Who are they kidding! This show is rapidly becoming a how to do it manual for why American big business is failing. Michael Moore could hardly do better.

    • Jennifer

      Have to admit I was disappointed…certainly not the same type of payback that 7-11 gave to his employees.

    • Lisa

      The whole point of this show is to BETTER the company, not just a few people in it. While I feel for Joe and Jose, helping with their personal issues doesn’t help the company. Unless, Dave did something like what the Waste management COO did, setting up a program for the man who needed help so that he could find OTHER employees like him. A support group. Not a throw money at it and let them go their way. He set up something more constant. Dave Rife did not.

    • Ali

      The White Castle “boss” on undercover Boss was cheap and that episode made me sick. What a cheap company who doesn’t care about anything.

      • Oz

        Just sat down and did some marathon watching of “Undercover Boss” with one of the episodes featuring White Castle. While watching it with others we were all discussing how little they offered the employees that were offered money. The young man who wants to attend culinary school only received $5,000. Really!?! A different episode featuring Boston Market rewarded a couple of their employees $20,000. That is despite that they are trying to do better financially. It is truly evident that Boston Market cares so much more about their workforce, especially those that perform well. Neither my family members or I will be going to White Castle.

  • Fesa Klab

    White Castle is great, except in the morning.

    • Joe

      The food may be borderline ‘OK’, but only if your drunk or stoned. The whole story here is about the working conditions and the attitude of upper most management. I have never been to, nor ever will go to a White Castle based on this show, and the pompous arrogance of this ass.

      • Paul

        You say “the food may be border-line ‘OK'” but then you say you have never been to one. I think you just want some people to hear your pointless opinion.

      • Vic

        Paul, you’re an idiot

  • carole gish

    Dave Rife, one of the owners of White Castle is absolutely unbelievable. He began by bragging about how good business has been so that he had “lots of toys” as he drove off in his red corvette. His family must be humiliated at his actions after his undercover caper. He donated $5,000 to a young man for a college scholarship, are you kidding me? That might cover a few books, does he not know how much college costs? Sell your red corvette, Dave, and give that young man all that money.
    Then he gave Joe, the nice man with the visually impaired adorable son a gift of $5,000. Come on, you can certainly give those two much more money than that. $5,000 each is a disgrace and Dave Fife should be so embarrassed and ashamed of himself.
    This was the worst show yet. Does Dave Fife not have a moral compass?

    • Carolyn

      I agree…He did not put his company in a positive light the the 7-11 CEO did. 7-11 rewarded their employee with a franchise

      • Paul

        Carolyn, are you implying that by pouring money on the few employees he interacted with will put his company in a positive light? I really hope that’s not what you’re implying, because that would be even more shameful. But I will agree, Dave Rife could’ve spent more money – but on improving his company and the morale; not just the lives of 2 employees.

  • paco from nj

    Even though I’m still jonesin’ for a couple of sliders, I have to agree with Ken that this was a disappointing episode. And it is evident that the show has lapsed into a very predictable formula. You will know immediately which employees will be the “heartwarming” stories, and which ones will be called on the carpet.
    The premise would be much better if the cameras were truly hidden–What employee is really going to badmouth the company and be nasty with cameras rolling in full sight–except for that Hooters manager Jimbo, of course!

    • Carolyn

      I agree..you can not tell me that every employee in all these companys are so happy. It is so staged.

    • hazel

      You are JUST now realizing that “reality tv” is very likely staged?

  • Veni Hart

    I agree…why not make a Meixcan burger with that yummy green salsa…and pay the man that made the salsa to oversea this. Also why not be the first to serve the same concept but with a veggie burger for us non meat eaters. I felt sorry for a lot of those workers who looked exhauseted, hopeless, and very poor. We were watching the working poor at its best tonight. Will David really help these workers or is this just a publicity stunt? A lot of these workers had not been to a denist in a very long time, most looked over worked and under paid. What I thought was really sad was David’s family seemed to make up the round table and were probably all on the pay roll making a lot more money then the people that are keeping them rich.

    • Paul

      I love how you assume Jose was Mexican even though there is no reference to his nationality. And the reason Dave Rife’s family was making up the table is because White Castle is a privately owned company – meaning only the family owns it. They can pretty much do what they want and get paid what they want.

    • carrie

      its oversee…not oversea. if youre going to offend something at least do it with some class.

      • Aaron

        “If you’re going to offend something” LOL. Do you mean defend something? You tried to correct Veni but then in the process you made a mistake yourself…

      • Vic

        carrie, you’re a dumb c*nt

  • Max

    I agree with most the comments, and i think the $5,000 was NOTHING compared to what he could have given, however, he could have given nothing.

    But i do agree, if he was going to give them something, make it something that will actually count to changing their lives.

    I want to find the Jose guy… my dad is a Master Chef for one of the largest restaurants in the country, and id love to introduce him and help get his career in motion. Such a sweet kid.

    • grett

      I guess you could google the episode and look for the man’s name there or call WC headquarters and ask which store is he at…. That would be easiest way I think – good luck!!

    • Doremifah Solatido

      Definitely, do that guy a favor and steal him from the dungeon that is White Castle!! C’mon, $5,000.00? That’s like $50 to you or me. And if WC comes out with a salsa burger in the coming months, without giving that guy an ownership stake in a franchise, management should all burn in hell! And if they don’t, they are stupid beyond belief!

    • WS

      He’s one of my old friends. I can let him know you’re willing to help him if you want.

    • jose gonzalez

      hello my names jose and i just finished reading your article. Thanks for your comment about my story on the show.

  • Debbie

    So, this guy gave $10 thousand, and got a prime time network show devoted to his business? Sounds like a heck of a deal to me. You know he’s taking a tax deduction on this money. Way to do the absolute minimum!! What a phony.

  • susanmarie

    Wow! The boss wanted to do what his employeees do to see for himself–this guy who inherited everything and has NEVER known what it is to struggle. He now UNDERSTANDS. Of course, it was great also seeing him handle the burgers with his bare hands! Let’s go buy a White Castle!

  • Dexx

    According to the local news in Chicago which featured Jose he ended up with a 20,000 scholarship, not the 5000 mentioned in the show

    • Taylor

      That sounds great, and I’m glad, but honestly, why didn’t the national show, air that? It’s not like they couldn’t change things at the last minute, at least in a crawl. Either way, glad he got more money.

    • LadyJNewYork

      That is so nice to hear. Jose is an “inspiration” to young and old. I know he’s going to do great things and have a wonderful future. Made his own salsa, “you go boy.” I was hoping the owner would suggest helping him market the salsa and sell it..oh well.

      • Carlo

        I agree with LadyJ.Jose is an inspiration to everyone,It would have been even better is Dave would have give a full scholarship to Jose.Hope Dave changes his mind and test market Jose salsa in some of his White Castle’s.I laugh at $5000 what a joke!!

    • Pinky

      Here’s what it said on CBS2 Chicago. (And yes, it’s a $5,000 scholarship for 4 years–a total of $20,000.):

      Mar 1, 2010 2:45 pm US/Central
      White Castle Employee Impresses ‘Undercover Boss’
      Mai Martinez
      CHICAGO (CBS) ―

      [Click to zoom.] Click to enlarge
      1 of 1
      White Castle employee Jose Gonzales of Chicago appeared in “Undercover Boss” and impressed company owner Dave Rife.



      numSlides of totalImages
      Chicago native Jose Gonzalez, a White Castle employee, made quite an impression company owner Dave Rife during the taping of CBS television show “Undercover Boss.”

      CBS 2’s Mai Martinez talked with the South Side teen about his experience.

      It doesn’t take long to see Gonzalez is a good worker. He hardly ever slows down, so Martinez donned an apron to get the inside scoop.

      Jose’s drive and ambition really impressed Rife. He told the CEO of his aspirations to be a chef who owns his own restaurant.

      Gonzalez says that’s been his dream since he was 13. High school culinary classes are helping him hone his skills. His homemade salsa was a big hit with Rife.

      “That is really good on the burgers,” the undercover boss told him during a lunch break. “That’s awesome.”

      Gonzalez appreciated the compliment.

      “To hear somebody finally start telling me that it’s perfect, it’s really good, it’s really good — that made my day.”

      But that was nothing compared to what Gonzalez felt when Rife made his college dream come true with a $5,000 annual scholarship, for a total of $20,000.

      “I was really stressing out about college before White Castle came in and did everything,” he told Martinez. “A big weight has been lifted off my head.”

      He said his luck started in July 2008, when his general manager hired him.

      “He saw that I wanted to work here, and he gave me a chance,” Gonzalez said.

      Turns out, it was a chance of a lifetime.

      To help him realize his restaurant dreams, White Castle also arranged for Jose to meet with the company’s culinary team. Gonzalez also got to meet with the chefs of several Chicago area restaurants.

      Gonzalez says he’d like to open his own restaurant when he’s in his late 20s or early 30s, and he says Rife will be at the top of the invitation list for his grand opening.

  • Tim

    Look……I agree that the guy, just like the last 2 guys us a real douche, but seriously, you come into these businesses with a camera crew. These people have minimum wage jobs for a reason. Don’t like working at White Castle, move up to a Chilli’s. Don’t like that, find a better job. The theory that any CEO should sweep into a company and act as fairy godmother to 2-3 people does a huge disservice to the rest of the hardworking people in the company. You show up on time and do your job right…. congratulations….you have a job next week. Undercover Boss might as well be named “Employee Lottery at really crappy companies”

    • Stacey

      You’re right – ALL of the employees deserve to be better paid. Most minimum wage jobs are hard work.

      • willy

        Are you ready to pay 10 bucks for one of those little square hamburgers?

      • Paul

        They’re minimum wage jobs for a reason. It may be hard work but it doesn’t require any education or special skills to perform well; just work hard.

    • zoot

      I agree…give every employee a small raise..just a dollar an hour. Make them feel appreciated. These owners show off how wealthy they are and then try to make it better by giving 2 or 3 people a couple of bucks. Spread the wealth

    • Jim

      “These people have minimum wage jobs for a reason … find a better job” Spoken like a silver spooner without a brain or heart, who doesn’t know what’s been going on lately. It’s 20% unemployment now – worse in some places – and even top-flight engineers are looking for work. Sure, find a better job. What planet are you living on?

      • Vic

        hey paul f*ckhead, eat a c*ock, you silver spooned fa**ot. I hope you lose everything and can’t get a fast food job because you’ve never worked a day in your life. POS c*cksucker

  • Taylor

    $5,000 for the scholarship and the other is paltry at best. That company makes a alot of money, they just figure that anybody working there thinks 5 G’s is good, and they took it. Shame on White Castle.

    This show is nothing but a promotional tool for companies…how would you have a second season? Everybody would be on the lookout for this stuff, and why don’t people behave better knowing they are videotaped anyway.

  • tickles

    I get what this show is trying to do.I don’t think it’s achieving it.
    I used to be a swing manager at the chain with the big yellow arches and let me tell you if I had a couple of employee’s like Jose and Joe I would have been in 7th. Heaven. Sign those 2 kids up for managerial training, get them scholarships to college and promote them and/or give them raises. White Castles may be a pretty good place to work at if that one lady had been there for 23 years but she needs to be rewarded for being such a dedicated employee. Help her husband get home health care and send them on a nice vacation too.
    Trust me…those employees were on their best behavior. You don’t want to know what really goes on when you have unhappy employees plus lax management at a fast food joint.
    I also really think it was way set up just because if he is entering fast food business for the first time I can’t imagine any manager throwing a new person on the grill or drive-thru the 1st. day. You always start out on something easy like drinks, dropping fries, or cleaning the lobby.

  • LIzzy

    I do agree that it’s crappy about not giving more to both of those young men. However, coming from a family that has worked for White Castle, the company is good to their employees. Sure they could do better, but I do think they care and at least try. And, just saying, would it not be better to help out the entire company with a “wellness” program. Then one person with a spa package?

    • Agree

      Lizzy, you’re right, a company wide program helps more people and its good to hear from someone who has personal experience working for this company.

  • Robert

    I agree I wanted to fire this guy for being incompetent. All the other CEOs so far were smart and leaders while this guy was just someone born with a silver spoon and no brains or brawn.

  • Carlos

    If you do some research on the White Castle company, this guy is pretty low on the totem pole when compared to the rest of the management. His official job title is “Plant Manager” at White Castle’s steel manufacturing plant. I think these TV producers are trying to pull a fast one, if we are to believe this guy has any influence in how this company is run.

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