Tweets were flying, food bloggers were posting furiously, and the local TV stations went on air with the news: In-N-Out was coming to New York!
Signs appeared one day last spring, posted on empty storefronts in several New York city locations, bearing the iconic yellow boomerang and these tantalizing words: In-N-Out Burger, Coming Summer 2010. Workers clad in company aprons and caps were handing out flyers announcing the grand opening scheduled for July 4th.
By day's end, New York was a city of dashed dreams and empty bellies; In-N-Out was not on its way to New York—not that summer, maybe not ever. Its burger-loving denizens were the victims of an elaborate, almost too-cruel hoax perpetrated by the comedy website College Humor. It seems that the heady cocktail of desire and desperation made everyone forget the date. That's right— April Fool's.
Few companies inspire this kind of fanatical loyalty. Apple Computer and Harley-Davidson Motorcycles are two others that come to mind. Their fans see themselves as savvy insiders with cultish devotion that borders on irrational.
In-N-Out has acquired a mystique based on quality, scarcity (fewer than 250 locations), and apocryphal tales of secret menus and lavish, six-figure pay for employees. It's a quintessential southern California attraction— the first stop for savvy out-of-towners on the way out of LAX. The rare restaurant opening has been known to alter a city's traffic patterns and bring hours-long lines and news helicopters buzzing overhead.
In-N-Out is welcomed where other fast food outlets are not. Love for the double-double burger is publicly professed by chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Thomas Keller and influential food writers like Gourmet's Ruth Reichl and Jonathan Gold. Even Fast Food Nation's muckraking Eric Schlosser gives it a thumbs-up.
There are no freezers, microwaves, or heat lamps at an In-N-Out. Nothing is ever frozen—even the hamburger beef is butchered at their own SoCal site, which has kept outlets within a day's drive of that location. No meal is prepared until the customer orders it, the fries are cut by hand in the store, the shakes are real ice cream, and burger prices hover around $3. Except for the addition of 7-Up and Dr. Pepper, the menu has barely changed in its 60 year history.
The big news is that In-N-Out is planning for expansion. The company is opening a regional office and second distribution center in Dallas, making it possible to open new outlets within driving range of the fresh hamburger patties it produces in Texas. Three new locations will be up and running this spring. Maybe by April 1st. And that's no joke.
A Hamburger Today deconstructs the Flying Dutchman, Animal Style, and the rest of In-N-Out's legendary, not-so-secret menu.