White Castle has raised the curtain on what it's calling the "Kitchen of the Future" in the fast-food industry.

White Castle has raised the curtain on what it's calling the "Kitchen of the Future" in the fast-food industry.

The Columbus-based company has installed the stainless-steel griddles, counters and food carts at its newly rebuilt Elizabethtown, Ky., store in full customer view.

Opening the kitchen gives "cravers" - what White Castle calls its loyal customers - a front-row seat to the creation of Sliders, Chicken Rings, Fish Nibblers and other of the restaurant chain's selections.

Seeing into the kitchen engenders customer trust in the food, while also involving customers in the process - particularly important to younger customers, said Jamie Richardson, a White Castle vice president and spokesman.

"The best way to favor the flavor (of White Castle food) is a little bit of engagement around watching that come your way," Richardson said.

The open kitchen debuted in mid-July with the reopening of the Elizabethtown store, which had closed months before so it could be razed and rebuilt.

The open-kitchen design is a throwback for White Castle, which pioneered hamburgers in the 1920s when they were thought of as an inferior meat. Back then, the restaurant used a small kitchen window to change customer perception.

"Elizabethtown's new White Castle also features an updated decor, four flat-screen TVs and other amenities to enhance our customers' overall dining experience," said Shawna Jones, regional director of Restaurant Operations, in a written statement.

Open kitchens are common among fast-casual restaurant chains, such as Chipotle, Boston Market and Panera - but not among fast-food chains.

"This is an area where fast-casual has had a lot of influence," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president for Technomic, a Chicago food- and restaurant-research firm.

"It makes a big difference to showcase" the preparation of food, Tristano said, "and is often considered restaurant theater."

White Castle refined its open-kitchen concept, as well as its ease of use for team members, inside the test kitchen of its regional headquarters on 5th Avenue, Richardson said.

"We're excited about this kitchen of the future. It's something we have been working on for a while," he said.

The Columbus fast-food company has been spending a lot more money renovating or rebuilding its restaurants than finding new markets in recent years, said its president, Lisa Ingram, during an interview earlier this year.

In addition to the Elizabethtown restaurant, two restaurants in Hilliard and Louisville, Ky., will get open kitchens this year, said spokeswoman Erin Shannon.

White Castle unit PSB Co. - founded about 10 years after the hamburger company to make fixtures for its stores - fabricated the stainless-steel counters and racks, minimizing the cost of the new kitchen design.

"This is about prioritizing," Richardson said. "We feel we are putting our best foot forward without dramatic increases in cost."