Why In-N-Out Should Never Move East

Image courtesy of In-N-Out

In-N-Out has the best fast food french fries in the universe. Now that we have that out of the way, we can move on to the task at hand.

I’ve been a loyal In-N-Out customer for darn near as long as I can remember. Growing up in Arizona, my family would always make a point of stopping at In-N-Out as we drove to Oceanside, California for our annual summer getaway. It was one of the highlights of the trip. A culinary symphony of lightly toasted buns, perfectly melted American cheese, fresh beef patties, and, perhaps above all, the most delicious shakes human hands have ever created.

After a few years of this tradition, we found out the good news that a new In-N-Out would open right in our backyard in Mesa, Arizona. While this news was welcomed at the time, my feelings today are a little more mixed.

On a recent trip to Austin, Texas, I was surprised to find that there is now an In-N-Out right by the university in the middle of town. And that’s not the only In-N-Out in Texas. As of this writing, there are a whopping 35 locations throughout the Lone Star State.

I’m sorry, but this is not progress.

We need to draw the line in the sand somewhere, and I think Texas is as good a place as any to make a stand. (You guys remember the Alamo, right?)

Now, you may say, isn’t it great that more and more people can experience the wonder of In-N-Out? Well, that’s a loaded question. Yes, I want everyone to someday have the pleasure of biting into a Double-Double and washing it down with a strawberry shake hand-delivered from Mount Olympus, but putting In-N-Out locations across the country is not the right way.

The secret of In-N-Out lies in those special-occasion stops my family used to make on our way to California. It’s appeal is something like a highly polished and well-orchestrated roadhouse where weary travelers make pilgrimage when they’re in the area. When you’re inside an In-N-Out, you could be fooled into thinking that it’s the only one in existence. This is partially a product of meticulous uniformity across locations, but more than that, it’s a result of regionality.

The culture of In-N-Out is inextricably tied to Southern California. It’s part of the soul of the place. I was willing to let it slide when locations started popping up in Arizona and Nevada, but when we have an In-N-Out in Kentucky, the charm of this mighty restaurant will have diminished considerably. (No offense to Kentucky. I think you’re great.)

Very few franchises have kept their soul while expanding nationally. And soul is not the same as a consistent brand. Take McDonald’s. They have a very strong, consistent brand, but the only soul in that place is the one you check at the door when you enter. (Hey, I’m guilty too.)

The only example of a soul-intact national chain I can think of is Chipotle, but when you’re in a Chipotle, you don’t forget that there are ten thousand other ones around the world. It’s always clear that it’s a global chain. That’s why In-N-Out is special. It’s regionality is its secret sauce.

So, back to what I said earlier. Yes, I would love for everyone to experience In-N-Out, but having it come to you is not the right way. You must go to it in order to truly have the In-N-Out experience. Even better, come to an In-N-Out in California, because, like eating Chinese food with chopsticks, In-N-Out just tastes better out here.

In-N-Out, if you’re listening, let’s stop this relentless Manifest-Destiny-in-reverse. I don’t want to see you fall. Invite everyone into your warm and loving embrace, but do it on your terms. Make them come to you. They’ll be better off for it.