Why you should care
Because you’ll never want to eat a Subway sandwich again.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a celebrity who hasn’t been to the White House. George Clooney, Jimmy Fallon, Mr. T, Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah. If you’re not impressed yet, I don’t mean that White House, but rather a small, family-owned sub shop in a slightly sketchy backstreet of Atlantic City, New Jersey, where the bright lights of the gigantic Caesars casino a couple of blocks away are still visible.
The owners of White House estimate that since its opening in 1946, the tiny deli has served up more than 25 million hearty subs. And boy, do they mean hearty. After waiting in line for 20-plus minutes to get a booth, I ordered a “whole” rather than a “half,” wondering if it would be enough to satisfy my ravenous appetite. When the server brought my warm chicken Parm sandwich, overflowing with meat and sauce and measuring a whopping 2 feet long, precariously balanced across four paper plates, it was clear that my $15.30 had not gone to waste. “Some people even order two wholes,” she said when she saw my expression.
The classic Italian joint has barely changed in 70 years: It’s owned and managed by the families of founder Tony Basile and his business partner, Fritz Sacco. If general manager Wayne Richardson — who married into the Sacco family — wants to change anything, from a recipe to a radio, he has to first run it past the family elders, he says. As a result, the decor — white wooden booths with gaudy orange leather trim — doesn’t just look vintage, it is vintage. The White House is as unpretentious as it comes in a city where gems are more often polished and adorned with neon than they are hidden away: Printouts using Windows ’98 WordArt are slotted into the napkin holders, proudly commemorating 60 years of the deli’s history (they clearly haven’t been updated in 10 years). Faded photos, covering every available space on the wall, show celebrity after celebrity who found their way to the White House after a show in one of the city’s casinos or clubs. A photo of the Beatles collectively holding up a 6-foot sub hangs above the cash-only register, and Frank Sinatra’s towel from his last performance in the city is framed and has pride of place.
In the summer, fresh bread comes in the door about every 30 minutes.
The celebs started coming to the White House from day one, with Sinatra and Dean Martin being early adopters. They came for the food, says Richardson — the place has served premium Italian meat, cheese and fresh-baked white sub rolls from the same two local bakeries since its opening. In the summer, fresh bread comes in the door about every 30 minutes. “There’s something about the Atlantic City water or humidity or something that makes those Italian rolls so damn good,” Richardson says. He might be onto something — the city has won international drinking water events.
But the golden age of the seaside resort is long gone: The White House “has seen a drop of business with Atlantic City going the way it has gone,” says Richardson, and even the city’s prized drinking water is at risk from the municipality’s financial problems. The White House knows the city’s troubles firsthand: The only move away from the original building was in 2011, when an outlet was opened in the now-bankrupt Trump Taj Mahal casino and hotel. The owners have left that restaurant fully equipped, should the casino ever reopen.
In the meantime, the original location keeps attracting both hopeful celeb-spotters and the hungry. My own sandwich was delicious (Richardson is right about the bread), from first bite to last. Even though it did take me three days to finish it.