Southern California, especially Los Angeles, is a world unto itself. Between the palm trees, sunshine, fast cars, beautiful beaches, and laid-back lifestyle, it is easy to see why people flock to this little slice of paradise from around the world. Gluing it all together is the undeniably delicious and oh-so-popular In-N-Out Burger, the Holy Grail of fast food burgers, fries, and shakes. But how did such a straightforward menu and simple concept become so synonymous with everything people love about the Golden State and the City of Angels? The story goes back 70 years to post-World War II America.
The brainchild of former serviceman Harry Snyder and his wife Esther, the first In-N-Out opened for business in Los Angeles suburb Baldwin Park on Oct. 22, 1948. Serving only its iconic hamburgers, fresh french fries, cool drinks, and creamy milkshakes, the menu has remained largely unchanged since then. Recent additions include lemonade in 2003 and hot chocolate only this year. Of course, Californians depended on fast, accurate service. Harry wanted to open a “place people can get their sandwiches and go.” Thus, the Snyder’s pioneered the original drive-thru concept by installing a two-way speaker box where customers could drive up in their cars, place their order, and have it ready for them in minutes. A revolutionary idea, the speaker box quickly spread to other restaurants and is still in use today. It led to continued success for the Snyder’s, and In-N-Out opened a second location in Covina in 1951. Word spread and In-N-Out became a popular destination for many Hollywood stars, including Lucille Ball and Bob Hope.
Conversely, the Snyder family frequently rejected publicity and interview opportunities while also refusing to release financial information and trade company stock publicly. These practices are upheld by Lynsi Snyder, Harry and Esther’s only grandchild and heiress to the In-N-Out fortune. Additionally, In-N-Out remained unique to Los Angeles County all the way up until 1990, when their first San Diego location opened in Vista. The first store outside of California opened in 1992 in Las Vegas. Despite this slightly peculiar vague mystique, toda, the red and yellow arrow logo paired with two crossed palm trees guides hungry fast food lovers to 329 locations across California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and Oregon, with more coming to Colorado by 2021. Between an estimated 2014 revenue of $575 million and an extremely loyal fan base that consistently cite high quality food and attentive customer service in numerous national surveys as reasons for their continued patronage, In-N-Out only continues to grow in size and influence. New location openings are often huge events: Scottsdale, Ariz. got its own store in 2007 and saw a four-hour wait on opening day with news helicopters circling above to capture the action.
While the first family and their money matters are shrouded in dubious mystery, In-N-Out’s secret menu is well-known and celebrated by customers and employees. You can even find it on the company website, affectionately underneath a tab named Not-So-Secret Menu. Need extra meat and cheese? Order a Double Meat, a 3X3, or a 4X4. Vegetarian? Go for the Grilled Cheese. Counting calories? The lettuce-wrapped Protein Style is your best bet. But the single most popular item is the infamous Animal Style: all the traditional fixings of a regular In-N-Out hamburger cooked in a thin layer of mustard with grilled onions and pickles thrown on for added zest and flavor. According to the website, the menu isn’t exactly hush-hush because In-N-Out is “all about making our customers happy.” That said, people have previously taken advantage of such generosity. In 2004, one hungry customer ordered a 100X100. Word spread quickly and the higher ups quickly limited the offering to the aforementioned 4X4.
While much of In-N-Out’s formula stays underneath the surface, the company is also committed to philanthropy. The In-N-Out Burger Foundation "supports organizations that provide residential treatment, emergency shelter, foster care, and early intervention for children in need,” through grants to eligible nonprofit groups in a limited number of states funded by donations made at In-N-Out sponsored fundraisers. In 2010, the foundation allocated $1,545,250 to 231 grantees in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. In-N-Out also established the Slave 2 Nothing Foundation in 2016 to help end modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking. They work to achieve this mission by “creating awareness, prevention, protection and partnerships and by assisting survivors by encouraging and supporting effective programs and solutions.” They are also committed to fighting substance abuse issues. Funded by generous donations, every dollar raised goes directly to the services provided by them to communities with In-N-Out locations.
Next time you find yourself on a sun-soaked Los Angeles street and see the ubiquitous red, yellow, and white checkered building, be sure to remember its humble beginnings and commitment to helping the world around them. In-N-Out’s unique brand of selflessness and belief in individualized service of high quality food are clear byproducts of its family-owned and operated culture founded way back in the 40’s by Harry and Esther. Double up on the Animal Style, please!
Originally from Virginia and now based out of Denver, Colorado, Sam Faktorow is a writer and digital marketing professional currently working for Xtensive Strategy. A 2013 graduate of Colorado College with a degree in English and Drama, Sam appreciates a well crafted sentence as much as a well crafted beer. His writing talents span numerous genres and forms, including nonfiction, poetry, prose, and technical writing. His other interests include live music, traveling, yoga, dancing, hiking, comedy, pop culture, and more.