March 31, 2023

Post-war American businesses were a study in the industry. The booming economy encouraged scores of new companies with progressive concepts. One such concept was a Southern California original, the Drive-Thru Restaurant.

The idea of serving food to patrons in their cars was not exactly new. There were many Drive-In restaurants, which used car-hops to serve patrons in their parked vehicles. Harry Snyder had an improvement that would allow patrons to place their orders via two-way speakers, collect their food, and then drive away without parking, or leaving their vehicles. This was the concept for the first In-N-Out Burger, which opened in 1948 in the San Gabriel Valley city of Baldwin Park.

Newlyweds Harry and Esther Snyder had a great idea. They would virtually invent the concept of fast-food, and put the go in “to go”. However, what really made them successful was their business philosophy: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment”.

McDonald’s was also founded that year in San Bernardino, and Jack in the Box (San Diego) followed in 1951, with a concept similar to Harry Snyder’s. However, In-N-Out is different from major burger chains. To this day, every In-N-Out restaurant is owned by the Snyder family. None are franchised to unworthy stewards, who might compromise In-N-Out’s high standards.

Considering its private ownership, In-N-Out grew much slower than the big chains. Compare a total of 213 In-N-Outs in California, Nevada, and Arizona, to the thousands of McDonald’s worldwide. However, bigger is not always better.

After Harry’s death in 1975, the company was run successively by his two sons, Rich and Guy, who both died early and tragic deaths. Matriarch Esther was company president from 1999, until her death in 2006, at the age of 86. The Snyders never compromised their business philosophy and dedication to quality.

There are no clowns at In-N-Out, and you can’t get chicken nuggets, fish sandwiches, or kid’s meals—only burgers, fries and drinks. However, their food is well known as the best-tasting fast food in the country. Even the company’s advertising reflects its focus on food, as opposed to a commercialized “atmosphere”, marketed toward children.

Every burger is cooked to order, made from fresh beef, and never frozen. In fact, all ingredients are fresh and pure, including french fries free of added beef flavor, as done by McDonald’s. There are also no freezers, microwave ovens, or heat lamps at any In-N-Out. The superior taste and experience inspire cult-like loyalty from the restaurant’s patrons.

The experience includes a completely transparent operation. Most In-N-Outs permit full view of food preparation, in a well-organized and sparkling clean kitchen. The hard-working associates add to the institution’s mystique.

In-N-Out has a distinct culture, which focuses on purpose, teamwork, and camaraderie. Employees are encouraged to take pride in their work, giving them a sense of ownership. They are well compensated as well, earning a minimum rate of $10/hour in California.

The company’s sole heir, Lynsi Martinez was only 24 years old when her grandmother Esther died. She will take control in stages, over a period of 12 years. Her brother-in-law, Mark Taylor serves as the company’s fifth president. They have big shoes to fill, not only from a business perspective but as leaders of a dynamic institution that is quick to expose its sensitive side.

The Snyder family created a company where even the newest employee feels like part of the family. Esther and her son Guy also created the In-N-Out Burger Foundation in 1995. The foundation which is entirely maintained by In-N-Out contributes 100% of funds raised to combat child abuse, and assist its victims.

A tradition was also instituted during Rich Snyder’s presidency in the 1980s. Upon close inspection of the paper burger wrap envelopes, fry boats, and beverage cups, you can find a very discrete message from the Snyders to every customer. You may require a certain big book to decode it.

Many great business ideas have come and gone since World War II. Drive-in restaurants are practically extinct, but thanks to the Snyder family, Drive-Thrus are still going strong. Happy 60th Anniversary, INO!

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