Steppin’ Out – In-N-Out Burger

Just about every day I see or hear and new advertisement from a fast food restaurant promoting a new sandwich, drink or something else. Lately it has been combinations for a set amount, such as two burgers for a price, a burger and another item for a price or recently, from McDonald’s, a $1, $2 and $3 menu.

I don’t recall when this all started, but I just can’t keep up with it. In fact, I occasionally go to one of these places to try something, just to find it was discontinued a few days before and replaced with something even newer.

It wasn’t that long ago (although now even 20 years seems like just a couple of years ago) that most fast food restaurants had just a few things on their menu and did them well. Not any more. I guess the market and competition has become so fierce that nobody wants to be left behind. I noted that within days of McDonald’s advertising their new, cheap menu, Jack in the Box had an advertisement comparing it to their new menu.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Doogie’s, an independent restaurant in Connecticut. Rock, the owner, had a simple motto: “The secret to success is to do just a few things, but do them very well indeed.”

Following that, I added that a lot of the fast food chains with giant menus should take notice.

Then it occurred to me. One chain, that will turn 70 this year, has kept their basic menu of burger, cheeseburger, “Double-Double” (two beef patties and two slices of cheese), fries, soda and shakes. That place is In-N-Out Burger.

Sure, they do have a “Secret Menu” that contains modifications of these (depending upon how busy they are at the time), but it hasn’t really changed since its opening: burgers, fries, soda and shakes.

Their first restaurant opened in 1948 in Baldwin Park and it broke new ground with the first drive-thru.

I had a friend who worked there in the mid-1950s. I had never heard of In-N-Out Burgers, so he told me I had to come by. Four of us jumped in my 1948 Ford convertible and went there one day. Four people, less than five bucks, total (I miss that car).

They didn’t have a restaurant outside of the greater Los Angeles area until 1990 when they opened one in San Diego County. Two years later they opened one in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The first northern California restaurant opened in Modesto in 1993 and now they are in several western states with around 329 locations.
I don’t recall exactly the year that they opened in Placerville, but prior to that there was a location in Auburn that we would visit and bring back burgers for our friends.

So, what makes them successful? They are still family owned, their meat is not frozen, everything is fresh, they grill their buns next to the meat and one thing that seems to stick out in most of the comments left by customers: their burgers are consistently delicious and look like burgers when you get them. They aren’t as fast as some places, because they only cook to order.

They will tell you that have no heat lamps, freezers or microwaves and deliver on their promise of Quality You Can Taste®. That is true.

Their French fries are made from fresh hand-cut potatoes and prepared in 100% vegetable oil. The last time I checked, they used Kennebec potatoes, which taste really good, but don’t maintain their crispness as long as Russets. They also don’t blanch them before cooking. You can order them “Well Done” to get them crisper (Secret Menu).

At my insistence, my friend Russ Salazar and I stopped by last Saturday around 2 p.m. for a late lunch. It was busy as it always is. I had a Double-Double combo, Russ had a Cheeseburger combo. His first comment: “Look at that, a burger with fresh lettuce, a nice slice of tomato, and it looks delicious, like it should.” I agreed and it was delicious, as were the fries.

The Placerville In-N-Out Burger is located at 3055 Forni Road, near Office Max, and is open from 10:30 a.m. until 1:00 a.m., daily, staying open until 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights. Yes, they have a drive-thru.

They can be reached at the corporate phone number, (800) 786-1000. The menu and more information is available on their webpage, www.in-n-out.com.

By the way, I believe they were the first fast food restaurant to offer a burger wrapped in lettuce and without the bun.

Oh, don’t look for their welcoming crossed palm trees in front. The City of Placerville and In-N-Out had a disagreement about them.

I have been told that the 1963 movie “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” was a favorite of In-N-Out founder Harry Snyder and in tribute to the film and its crossed palms, he planted the first In-N-Out palms in 1972. They soon became a trade mark for the chain.

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