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White Castle fed a homeless teenager. Years later, she got married there.

Jamie West’s wedding day at a fast-food burger joint in Arizona earlier this month was a celebration she said she couldn’t have imagined when she was growing up.

In the 1990s, as a homeless teenager, West said she dared not think beyond “just having one more day.”

She said she found hope, however, in an unlikely place, when an employee at a White Castle restaurant handed her several bags of free burgers after she asked for a glass of water.

“After that, whenever I was hungry, I knew where to go,” West, now 41, recalls. “Every White Castle I went to treated me the same. I got out of the laundry in their restroom and found a big bag of sliders waiting for me.

“It was a kindness that I will never forget,” she said.

About 25 years later, when she got engaged to Drew Schmitt, West said she knew exactly where she wanted their wedding: a white castle that had recently opened in Scottsdale, about 20 miles from their venue. of residence.

“We’ve eaten here at least twice a month since they opened,” West said of the 2019 opening, adding that White Castle allowed them free use of the restaurant for their wedding.

On May 5, she and Schmitt said their “yes” in a medieval-themed ceremony that included stacks of sliders for 150 guests, a giant burger-shaped cake and flowergirls who tossed dehydrated onions instead of flower petals.

West wore a bright blue and gold ballgown with a full skirt, and Schmitt wore a kilt topped with tailored leather armor. Continuing with their royal theme, the couple wore crowns as a tattoo artist put the finishing links on their chosen Celtic ring tattoos in place of the traditional wedding rings.

“We’re so grateful to have found each other and become each other’s partners and best friends,” said Schmitt, 57, who runs a roofing business with West.

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“Jamie has been through a lot of tough challenges in her life, so it’s wonderful that she’s in this happy place now,” he said.

West said she grew up in Arizona and was placed in the state’s foster care system at age 4 because her parents were struggling and couldn’t care for her.

“For eight years I was in and out of 94 foster homes – some of them were really abusive and neglectful,” she said. “When I was 12 and a half, I finally climbed out the bathroom window to escape, and I got good at hiding.”

She said she previously lived with other teenagers in a homeless camp near Arizona State University in Tempe, then hitchhiked to Southern California and ‘she had lived in beach communities with members of the Rainbow Family counterculture.

“When I had enough, I started hitchhiking all over the country,” West said. “It was quite difficult – I was abusing alcohol and drugs and I was really alone.”

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She was 16 when, she says, she walked into a restaurant in White Castle for a drink of water one day in one of the many unnamed towns she had passed through. She doesn’t remember exactly where she was, she says, but she thinks she was in Kentucky or Tennessee.

“That woman who worked there said, ‘Oh, Sugar, poor thing – go clean yourself up in the bathroom,'” she recalled. “I walked in and cried, then washed up. When I came out, there were these big bags full of burgers waiting for me.”

“The lady told me they were cleaning the grill and they were going to throw it all away and she wanted me to have them,” she added. “I remember sobbing, then hugging her, grabbing the food and running away.”

“I wasn’t sure it was real,” West explained.

She said this scenario has happened many times in various white castles across the country, no matter how rough she looked when she entered.

“I’ve always been very grateful to them for treating me like a human being,” West said. “It was a brilliant place at a really bad time.”

When she was 17, West said, an aunt in Arizona took her in for a year and she was able to stop abusing illegal substances and start living a more stable life.

A teenage mother with triplets had no support. Her babies’ NICU nurse adopted her.

“She helped me get out of this street mentality that I was locked into,” West said, noting that she eventually got a job as a kennel technician at an animal shelter and was able to move on and find their own accommodation.

There were no white castles in Arizona back then, but when she traveled to states that had the burger chain, she made it a point to stop by and was happy to pay for her food now that she could afford it.

Although her mother died five years ago, West said, she was recently able to reconnect with her father and hopes to mend their relationship.

“Drew is the one who inspired me to do this,” she said of her husband.

She said it took years to put her painful past behind her, but she finally found love and acceptance after meeting Schmitt near Scottsdale in 2006.

“We were both hanging out with other football fans, and we were all together in a bar one day watching a game,” West recalled. “After our relationship broke up in 2007, Drew and I started dating.”

When White Castle opened its first Arizona location in 2019, they camped out in the parking lot to be the first inside, and have since become regulars.

In March 2020, Schmitt asked West to marry him after they were both inducted into White Castle’s Cravers Hall of Fame. at the burger chain’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, at a rally for the company’s biggest slider fans. West decided to publicly speak to the public about his difficult past and history with the restaurant chain.

“Jamie was on stage telling her story, and when she turned around I was on one knee with a sword, asking her to marry me,” he said. “It was pretty epic.”

The coronavirus pandemic caused them to delay their wedding plans, but the wait was worth it, West said.

As she walked up the aisle to the music of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “I thought of all the strangers who helped feed me and brought me to this moment,” she said of her marriage.

“I want other girls who are going through what I went through to know that it’s going to get better and that they can find hope,” West added. “I was able to free myself from the pain and be happy, and so were they.”


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