A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules
by Stacy Perman
This is a wonderfully comprehensive story of the legendary Southern California-born burger chain that has remained family-owned through three generations. Founded in Baldwin Park in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder, the first In-N-Out was a modest operation that grew into a beloved institution that has always kept food quality and exceptional service at the forefront of its operations, while resisting pressure or temptation to take the path of franchising or going public as other successful chains have done, often to their detriment.
The Snyders had a simple philosophy of offering great food and service while treating their associates (as In-N-Out has always referred to their employees) like family. Well paid and often staying with the company for years, associates start at the bottom and are given ample opportunity to move up through the ranks; in fact, In-N-Out prefers home grown talent.
A large part of In-N-Out's history has to do with the California car culture. Snyder was one of the first to utilize the concept of the drive-through lane. As the company grew, stores were strategically located near on- and off-ramps as Southern California's notorious freeway system expanded over the years. It wasn't until the 1990's when they began opening in more urban areas beginning with an In-N-Out in Westwood by UCLA.
Harry and Esther had two sons: Harry Jr. (known as Guy) and Rich. Harry developed a love for auto racing and speed in general leading to a 1970's motorcycle crash, the injuries of which would lead to a prescription drug addiction that would eventually kill him. Rich, considered the more mature and business-like of the two brothers, took over as the head of In-N-Out when Harry Snyder passed away in 1976. When Rich died in a private plane crash just before Christmas 1993, he had expanded the chain from 18 to 93 locations while maintaining the dedication to quality established by his parents.
After Rich's death Guy took over with Esther, who would survive until 2006, at his side. Although he had held a Vice President title, by this time Guy's drug-abuse had sidelined him from pretty much any In-N-Out activities and Rich was in the process of buying him out altogether. But since the paperwork hadn't been signed, Guy was still in. He kept In-N-Out's limited expansion and high standards in place by basically following the blueprint developed by Rich. Guy was devoted to the family business, but continued to struggle with drug addiction and no one seemed to be able to force him to face up to his demons. As a result his health deteriorated and he died of heart failure brought on by his drug abuse in 1999, and since Rich had died childless, Guy's daughter Lynsi became the sole heir to In-N-Out Burger.
One thing I didn't notice until I finished the book is that it was published in 2010, so there's been a lot of In-N-Out growth since then. And yet the company still remains in the hands of the Snyder family, still offers great food and service, and remains a beloved Southern California icon with a fanatically devoted following. I'd love to see a more updated version. If you decide to purchase the book, look for the 2010 paperback that includes an update to the original 2009 edition.
The book begins with coverage of an April 2007 opening of the first In-N-Out Burger in Tucson, Arizona, describing the frenzy that accompanied the store's first day of operations as fans descended on it, then tells the story of Harry and Esther and their little burger stand from the beginning. It's a terrific read about the power of family, integrity, and hard work, with some local Southern California history as a backdrop of the story. Just a warning, though: this book will make you crave In-N-Out.
From the book:
One of In-N-Out's most successful marketing strategies came in the form of bumper stickers. In Southern California, starting in the early 1980's, placing an In-N-Out sticker on the back of one's car signified membership in a peculiar sort of club; all along the freeways, horns were honked, thumbs were raised, and head were tipped in recognition.
At one point, it became common practice among young men across the Southland to excise the "B" and "R" from the word B-U-R-G-E-R, modifying the sticker to read "IN-IN-OUT URGE"; the clean-cut company was not amused. As a result, the chain discontinued the original sticker and printed up a new one. This time a well-placed image of a Double-Double was placed on the spot where the word "burger" once stood.
LOL, I remember those IN-N-OUT URGE stickers...