Remembering Harry Snyder: Mr. In-N-Out

By Steve Beard

“No Microwaves, No Freezers, No Heat Lamps.” Happy Birthday to Harry Snyder, co-founder of my beloved In-N-Out. While I happily live in Whataburger territory, I’m an unrepentant hustler for the Animal Style Double-Double. So was the late Anthony Bourdain. He described the Double-Double as a “ballistic missile … a perfectly designed protein delivery system.”

Look, debate amongst yourselves all you want: McDonald’s vs. Burger King, Shake Shack vs. Five Guys, Wendy’s vs. Jack In the Box. Leave me out of it. In this debate, I’m a lover, not a fighter. Just get me to In-N-Out, my Southern California comfort food feeding trough. When I fly home to Orange County, my first stop from the airport is In-N-Out. Go ahead, ask my mom and dad.

In-N-Out is now owned by the granddaughter of its founders, Harry Snyder (1913-1976) and his wife Esther (1920-2006). It does not franchise – no matter what the offer. The company is worth about $3 billion and CEO ” is the 38-year-old granddaughter. She appeared on the cover of Forbes in 2018.

“I felt a deep call to make sure that I preserve those things that [my family] would want. That we didn’t ever look to the left and the right to see what everyone else is doing, cut corners or change things drastically or compromise,” Snyder-Ellingson told the business magazine. “I really wanted to make sure that we stayed true to what we started with. That required me to become a protector. A guardian.”

She was recently ranked third in Glassdoor.com’s list of best CEOs ranked by employees with a 99 percent approval rating among the 26,000 people on the payroll.

In-N-Out routinely gets offers to go public or sell. “We’ve had some pretty crazy offers,” Snyder-Ellingson told Forbes. “There’s been, like, princes and different people throwing some big numbers at us where I’m like, ‘Really?’ ” The plan never changes. “We will continue to politely say no to Wall Street or to the Saudi princes. Whoever will come,” says In-N-Out’s attorney.

In-N-Out has a few defiant trademarks that are counterintuitive but serve them well: one of them is that In-N-Out serves fewer than 15 items: burgers, cheeseburgers, fries, soda, milk shakes. It only just recently added hot chocolate. Competitors such as McDonald’s and Burger King offer more than 80 items. The burger joint is also limited to 358 restaurants in six states. They have no interest in becoming an empire. There are a few other points of distinction:

  • In 1948, it was one of California’s first drive-thru joints.
  • Ever the innovator, Harry built his own two-way speaker system in his garage to take the drive-thru orders.
  • Opening day menu was hamburgers, 25 cents; cheeseburgers, 30 cents; fries, 15 cents; and bottled soda, 10 cents.
  • The iconic crossed palm trees logo was inspired by one of Harry’s fave movies, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” The 1963 film features a car chase to reach the palm trees and buried treasure. Harry was also part owner of the Irwindale Raceway in the 1960s and sold hamburgers out of the track’s concession stands. In-N-Outs became a hangout for hot rod racers.

In family tradition, CEO Lynsi Snyder-Ellingson drag races in an orange 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with NHRA under the name Flying Dutch Fox (her late father, also a racer, was the Flying Dutchman).

  • In-N-Out lists six items of its “not so secret menu” on the company website. Animal Style is the hamburger patty grilled with mustard and served with grilled onions, extra spread and the usual toppings. “Protein style” is lettuce leaves, no bun.
  • For the tuxedo and sequin gown crowd, In-N-Out has become a fixture at Oscars after-parties.
  • The inconspicuous Bible verses found on the packaging reflect the faith of the Snyder family. For her part, Snyder-Ellingson founded a ministry called Army of Love and gave the commencement speech at Biola University in 2019. She gave In-N-Out gift cards to the graduates of the La Mirada, California, school and spoke about overcoming her struggles with alcohol and marijuana, as well as abusive relationships. Snyder-Ellingson urged the students to not allow pride to prevent them from being open and honest about difficulties in their lives.

“I’m here to tell you that if you think you are too good for any sin out there, beware,” she said. “Because every one of us is capable of just about anything if we’ve been through the right things, put in the right conditions, hurt in the right way.”

  • In-N-Out has been referenced by a few hip-hop artists such as “Cadillac Girl” by Andre Nikatina (“Did just that at In-N-Out Burger/ No pickles, no onions, no playing”), as well as “Not Going Back” by Childish Gambino.
  • According to Forbes, an “In-N-Out store outsells a typical McDonald’s nearly twice over, bringing in an estimated $4.5 million in gross annual sales versus McDonald’s $2.6 million. …The average In-N-Out manager has been with the company for 17 years and makes $163,000, more than the typical California dentist, accountant or financial advisor.”
  • The business is debt free.

Hot dang, Mr. Snyder.

The righteous roots of Harry and Esther provide the modern day bloom of 72 years of smart business and tasty food. Congrats. Nothing but love and respect.

 

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