March 16, 2014 – When the California based In N Out Burger opened its first restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona, the wait to get to the front of the line was four hours. We didn’t bide that much time when my wife and I stopped by the local In N Out Burger on a recent Sunday. But there was a crowd.
Though the restaurants offer plenty of both indoor and outdoor tables as well as a counter with stools, the crowds are usually so large as to make snagging a seat serious business. I was beaten twice to inside tables and my wife once to a couple of outdoor seats. We were starting to think we would have to eat in the car. Fortunately we lucked out with two stools at the counter just as our number was called.
In N Out Burger is a stand out fast food chain. The first one was opened near Los Angeles in Baldwin Park in 1948 by Henry and Esther Snyder. Their concept was to offer a limited menu done well, using the freshest of ingredients and keeping the restaurant immaculately clean. And they were the first to introduce high tech into the fast food process. Drive through customers placed their orders over a two way speaker system.
And the burgers were good!
Californians were smitten with In N Out Burgers. So much so that today it’s the only fast food restaurant allowed a spot at Fisherman’s Wharf.
The Snyders also believed in offering a living wage and benefits to their employees. Currently the starting hourly wage for In N Out employees is $10.50, well above the federal minimum wage. That could account for the friendliness of the staff. Every one I encountered greeted me and offered the best wishes of the day. Every one of them sounded sincere. It made me feel friendly, too.
The company has held true to the concept developed by Henry and Esther. Today the distinctive yellow, red and white colors of In N Out Burger guarantee a safe, clean place to grab a quick, really good burger. A simple menu done consistently well served in a pleasant environment.
In N Out Burger grossed more than $600 million last year. Amazingly, they are still controlled by the Snyder Family. Oldest son Rich became CEO on the death of his father in the mid ’70s. Under Rich Snyder’s leadership the company began its expansion. More like an eruption. There were 18 In N Out Burgers when Rich became CEO. Tragically he died in an airplane crash returning from the opening of the 83rd restaurant in 1993.
Younger brother Guy took the reins and grew the number of restaurants to 140 before his untimely and equally tragic death in 1999. The brothers also expanded beyond the border of California to open restaurants in Arizona, Utah, Texas and Nevada.
Following Guy’s death, family matriarch Esther came out of retirement to assume the role of CEO until her death in 2006 at the age of 86. For a brief period unique in the company’s history, the CEO was not a member of the family. Then the only Snyder grandchild, Lynsi Torres gained 50% of the company through a trust when she turned 27 and now serves as CEO. On reaching 30, Torres will have full control of the 290 In N Out Burger restaurants.
Their menu is simple. You can have a hamburger, a cheeseburger or a double double, two meat patties and two slices of cheese. Their “not so secret” menu also offers a 3×3, three meat patties and three slices of cheese, a 4×4, well, you get the picture, or a grilled cheese, a burger without the meat. They used to accommodate customers with as many beef patties and slices of cheese as they wanted until some joker ordered a 100×100. There had to be a limit.
You can order your burger and fries animal style. In addition to the standard lettuce and tomato, animal style gets you pickles, grilled onions, extra sauce (a variation on thousand island) and the beef patty grilled in a thin layer of mustard. Animal style fries come smothered in grilled onions, melted cheese and more sauce. You can also order your burger protein style, which means it comes wrapped in a lettuce leaf rather than a bun.
Animal style sounded great to me. Protein style not so much.
Animal style was special. A one of a kind burger. The mustard came through as just a hint, a very good hint, and the grilled onions added a touch of sweetness. A merging of tastes that made my palate happy. The fries were completely smothered in grilled onions, melted cheese and the special In N Out Burger sauce. Gooey. Messy. And, though there were so many they had begun to cool by the time I got down toward the bottom of the paper basket, delicious.
A man with his young son in tow spotted us as we were finishing our meal.
“Are you leaving?” he asked politely as we rose from our stools.
“Yes,” I replied. “But we’re taking the stools with us. They’re too valuable to leave here.”
The momentary look of shock on his face, then the grin as he realized I was kidding was great fun.
“Good try,” he said, laughing.
The guy had a sense of humor. I figure he ordered animal style, too.