In-N-Out Burger Sticks To Basics, Finds Success In-N-Out Burger is a phenomenally successful West Coast chain that has stuck to burgers, fries and shakes. BusinessWeek reporter Stacy Perman has written a new history of In-N-Out. She says the chain has persisted with its original formula: Keep it simple; do one thing, and do it the best you can.
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In-N-Out Burger Sticks To Basics, Finds Success

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In-N-Out Burger Sticks To Basics, Finds Success

In-N-Out Burger Sticks To Basics, Finds Success

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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One of the best things about working at NPR West is that we have an In-N-Out Burger only a couple of minutes away. So today, I drove over before the show and ordered lunch.

Unidentified Woman: What can I get for you?

BRAND: I need a Double-Double Animal Style, Protein Style, Animal Style, light sauce with well-done fries.

Unidentified Woman: All right.

BRAND: Double-Double, Animal Style, it's all another language and part of the cult surrounding In-N-Out. You know, people from out of town can be a little skeptical. Why is there an obsession with In-N-Out? It's just a burger. Well, that's just it. It is just a burger: no salads, no chicken, definitely no lattes. In-N-Out is a phenomenally successful West Coast burger chain because it has stuck to the simple burger, fries and shakes menu.

BusinessWeek reporter Stacy Perman has written a new history of In-N-Out, starting with the company's founding in 1948 by Harry Snyder.

Ms. STACY PERMAN (Staff Writer, BusinessWeek; Author, "In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks all the Rules"): Harry had a motto: Keep it simple, do one thing and do it the best you can, and they've pretty much hued pretty closely to that formula, and it's worked for them.

They have their own process of how they make the beef patties and they deliver them to the stores on a daily or a near-daily basis. So they make sure the stores are no farther than a 500-mile radius so they can deliver, you know, fresh tomatoes, fresh potatoes. The potatoes are made and cut in the stores. I think one of the things you see, or rather don't see, every time you go into an In-N-Out is you don't see a freezer, you don't see infrared lights and you don't see microwaves.

BRAND: In-N-Out comes with some mythologies. One of them is the tiny Bible citations imprinted on every wrapper and cup. Stacy Perman says that's because of the company's second president, Harry's son, Rich Snyder.

Ms. PERMAN: He was a born again Christian, and in the '80s, he actually decided to have these Bible passages printed on the packaging of cups and wrappers. But his thinking was that hamburgers were so popular, and it was a way to trumpet his faith on a mass scale, although if you notice them, they're actually quite discreet. Unless you turn over the beverage cup, you're not going to know that it's there.

BRAND: Yeah, how many people are looking at the bottom of a soda cup?

Ms. PERMAN: You know, it's funny. Friends of mine who've lived in California forever, some of them didn't even know they were there, and some of them, who I think would be offended in any other setting, you know, sort of gave it a pass because they love In-N-Out Burger so much.

BRAND: Okay. And there's also this other interesting factor about In-N-Out, and that is it has a secret menu.

Ms. PERMAN: Right. And what's interesting is no one really knows how some of these got some of the names, although there are lots of stories.

For instance, Animal Style, which is kind of a sloppy burger with the mustard, and I was told one of the origins of that was that in the '60s, the surfing community in Southern California really took hold of In-N-Out, and some of them would start ordering the burgers that way, and the clean-cut guys behind the counter used to refer to the surfers as kind of animals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

So then it took on this name: Animal Style.

BRAND: So a surfer burger is an Animal Style burger.

Ms. PERMAN: Although it's - I have to admit, it's my favorite way to have a burger cooked there.

BRAND: And you can get it without the bun. That's Protein Style.

Ms. PERMAN: Yeah, there's a story about that as well, actually. A lot of people think that Protein Style was born with the craze of the Atkins diet, when people were refusing to eat carbs. But I was told actually it happened in the '70s as - and it was a result of Harry Snyder himself, who had a little bit of a weight problem, and when he tried to lose weight, he would stop eating, you know, carbohydrates. And so it was his preference to have the burger wrapped in lettuce rather than a bun.

BRAND: All right, Stacy, you grew up in Los Angeles. You spent many years researching this book, but now, I understand you live in New York.

Ms. PERMAN: I do.

BRAND: So how often do you get an In-N-Out, and are you pining for one right now?

Ms. PERMAN: You know, every time I go to L.A., I have an In-N-Out burger. So that sort of takes care of it. When I was working on the book, I think I had one three or four times a week. So I actually - by the time I came back to New York, took a six-month break, and I think that was necessary for my arteries to recover.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Stacy Perman is the author of the new book, "In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks all the Rules." Stacy Perman, thank you very much.

Ms. PERMAN: It was a delight to be here.

BRAND: So Robert, you've been to L.A. a couple of times, I understand. Have you actually had an In-N-Out burger?


I had one at the strongest and most enthusiastic urging of an NPR producer who wanted to share this great Los Angeles delicacy with me.

BRAND: And what did you think?

SIEGEL: I have absolutely no memory whatever of how good or bad or - I'm utterly indifferent.

BRAND: It didn't change your life?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: No, it did not change my life.

BRAND: Well, is there a burger that has changed your life or a burger that you love?

SIEGEL: I have one great burger story, 1958, Boulder, Colorado. I was 9 years old. We were spending the summer there. And on days when the university dining halls offered a truly inedible lunch, we went off to what we thought of as a local hamburger joint that prepared a hamburger incredibly quickly, put mustard, ketchup and pickle on it, and it was the best hamburger I'd ever had.

BRAND: Really? What was it?

SIEGEL: It was called McDonald's.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Touche.

SIEGEL: And for a New Yorker like me, it was a pretty exotic experience.

(Soundbite of music)

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