Happy Birthday, In-N-Out!

Original In-N-Out Burger location, Baldwin Hills, CA

In the state that invented the phrase "so five minutes ago", it's a wonder anything lasts.  My iPhone is a two-year-old SE (a 6 in the body of a 5).  People have begun to comment that I have "one of the old ones".

And yet, after 70 years, there's one California invention that---apart from being available in 335 locations and six states instead of one (revolutionary for its time) double drive-through in the Los Angeles suburb of Baldwin Park---is unchanged.

It was October 22, 1948 when Harry and Esther Snyder, a young couple aged 35 and 28, respectively, opened a hamburger stand well-suited to the car culture of Southern California.  There had been drive-ins since the 1920s---pull up, give your order to a carhop, who brought your food on a tray that attached to your car's door.  But In-N-Out was a drive-thru.  Pull up, tell them what you want, hand over the money and you get a bag of food.   Here's how revolutionary that was:  McDonald's didn't build a drive-thru until 1975.  

And Harry and Esther kept it simple.  They sold burgers, fries, sodas and shakes.  That's it.  You could order those burgers a lot of different ways, but that was just topping.   And nothing was ever frozen.

When I lived in California the first time, In-N-Out was a Southern California thing.   There were 18 In-N-Outs, all of them in the Greater Los Angeles Area.  Harry died in '76, his then 24-year-old son took over and expansion began---but slowly.  It wasn't until 1990 that an In-N-Out was built somewhere other than the Los Angeles Basin, and that was San Diego.   Northern California didn't get an In-N-Out until 1993, when one opened in Modesto.

And in the 25 years since?  Well, In-N-Out is a California---not Southern or Northern California, just California---thing.   They're all over the state---in places as small as my wife's hometown of Ukiah (population 16,000), where one opened a year and nine months ago and there are still lines around the parking lot for the drive-thru.

Friends or family from a place where they don't have In-N-Out come to visit and one of the top 5 requests is "Can we go to In-N-Out?"  The late Anthony Bourdain  knew every great restaurant in California, but every time he flew into L.A., he went straight to the nearest In-N-Out for a Double-Double Animal Style.  And it was his last stop before flying out of town. 

As a symbol of California, In-N-Out is right up there with Yosemite, surfing and black license plates with yellow letters and numbers.  

That's a nice legacy for Harry and Esther.

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