Company president doesn’t see expansion going east of Texas in her lifetime

By Tim Nelson
Updated October 11, 2018
Credit: photo by Bloomberg Finance LP via getty images

For those who’ve spent most of their lives anywhere east of the Mississippi, In-N-Out is a sort of fast food El Dorado. The home of a fabled “animal style” double cheeseburger whose riches exceed one’s wildest dreams. Well, if you were hoping our collective fascination with the vintage (and weirdly Christian) burger joint would translate an eastward expansion, think again.

In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Lynsi Snyder, president of the multibillion dollar private business, said she doesn’t plan to give California favorite In-N-Out a nationwide footprint anytime soon. “I don’t see us stretched across the whole U.S. I don’t see us in every state. Take Texas—draw a line up and just stick to the left. That’s in my lifetime,” the 36-year-old told Forbes.

The statement perhaps feels a bit counterintuitive given Snyder’s track record of regional expansions in her time in charge of the decidedly old-school burger-joint. She first oversaw expansion into Texas back in 2011, where 36 locations now compete with local Beto O’Rourke fave Whataburger. A move into Oregon, California’s neighbor to the north, followed in 2015. In-N-Out currently has its eye on Colorado, with openings on track for 2020 once a new regional headquarters can be set up as a sort of Rocky Mountains basecamp.

So why all the resistance to giving the people out East what they want? For a company fiercely resistant to modifying its menu or updating its retro aesthetic, it’s got a lot with how the Snyders have maintained careful control over the business as it’s scaled. In-N-Out insists on the use of fresh ingredients delivered daily from its own distribution centers, which means that any potential locations currently more than a day’s drive from its existing hubs would require setting up new infrastructure. They also refuse to let franchisees own and operate In-N-Out locations, so there’s understandable concern about the inherent difficulty of maintaining a close, centralized watch on the network of restaurants if it were to stretch from sea to shining sea.

Then again, Snyder suggests that maintaining In-N-Out’s status as something of a hamburger Hajj for those visiting Texas or the west coast is almost part of the brand’s mystique at this point. “I like that we’re sought after when someone’s coming into town,” she says. “I like that we’re unique. That we’re not on every corner. You put us in every state and it takes away some of its luster.”

One could also argue that Snyder’s strategy makes it harder for the rest of us to realize that In-N-Out’s kind of overrated, but maybe that’s just the Shake Shack in me talking.