The history of the In-N-Out empire and its $3 billion heiress
Calling the In-N-Out ($PRIV_INNOUTBURGER) founding family the first family of burgers could be controversial… if you've never had a double-double animal style, that is.
Founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in 1948, the Los Angeles-born burger chain with a fervent following in Southern California remains in the Snyder family and helmed by a Snyder to this day. Today, In-N-Out’s heart and soul is still in the Baldwin Park neighborhood where the first burger stand opened on October 22, 1948. The current President of the company, Lynsi Snyder, has a net worth of $3 billion.
Unlike McDonald’s and Burger King, who serve over 80 different items, In-N-Out has just 15 items on its menus: burgers, cheeseburgers — including the famous Double-Double — fries, soda, milk shakes and hot chocolate, which it began serving this year. The chain's consistency in its menu also extends to its owners, the Snyder family, who have had three generations run the business for almost 70 years despite several tragedies.
In-N-Out's inception in an era of weakening workers' rights
Esther Johnson, a zoology major at Seattle Pacific University, was managing a restaurant one day in Seattle when Harry Snyder, a former serviceman, walked through the door to deliver sandwiches. They fell in love, got married, and moved to Baldwin Park, a suburb of Los Angeles.
While settling down and becoming the Snyders, Harry came up with the idea with In-N-Out, a place where locals could get quality food quickly. Less than two years after Johnson earned her zoology degree, the first In-N-Out opened in Baldwin Park. Besides a simple menu and a commitment to fresh ingredients, In-N-Out had one other key difference from other budding burger joints: the treatment of their employees.
At the time, labor unions were beginning what would become a long decline across the nation, with those who worked fast food jobs started to The Snyders treated their employees like family and many of them remained with In-N-Out for their whole careers.
That can be seen in the 21st century through In-N-Out’s Glassdoor rankings, where nearly every employee who submitted an anonymous review would recommend a fried to work at the company.
A slow, yet strong, expansion despite tragedy
The Snyders opened their second In-N-Out in 1951, the same year they had their first child, Guy. One year later, they had a second son, Rich. By 1976, there were only 18 In-N-Outs in Los Angeles, as the Snyders did not want to franchise — that would sacrifice control over the quality of their brand’s product — nor want to purchase anything on credit.
Harry Snyder would die that year of lung cancer, and Esther chose her 24-year-old son Rich Snyder over the elder Guy to be the President of In-N-Out. Under Rich, In-N-Out continued to expand, albeit a bit more rapidly and out of state. On November 17, 1992, In-N-Out opened its 80th location in Las Vegas, which was also the first location outside of California. The second location outside of California opened the next day... and also in Las Vegas.
A year later, the Snyders lost another one of their own; Rich died in a plane crash on December 15, 1993 after seeing his 10-year-old niece Lynsi perform in a pageant the day before. Esther took over as President, while his brother Guy became chairman, but constantly battled with a drug addiction. He would die less than six years later of an accidental drug overdose on prescription painkillers.
During Guy's short tenure, he saw In-N-Out open its 100th location in Gilroy, California in November 1994, and at the time of his death, it had 140 total restaurants.
Lynsi: from black sheep to In-N-Out executive
After Guy's death, the chain was in the hands of Esther Snyder, who lost her husband and two sons. Under Esther, In-N-Out expanded to its third state, opening a restaurant in Lake Havasu City, Arizona on May 3, 2000.
The only other Snyder alive within the In-N-Out organization was her 16-year-old granddaughter Lynsi. As a teenager, she separated leaves of lettuce and worked at the cash register. By 18, she was married and moved up to the corporate side of the business. However, as she recently revealed in an interview with Forbes, she struggled with alcohol and drugs, going through two short-lived marriages.
Although she went through a "black sheep era" of her life, she pulled it together just in time to take over In-N-Out when Esther died in 2006.
After a period where a long-time In-N-Out executive took the reigns — and gave In-N-out its first Utah location in 2009 — Lynsi became the company's President at 27-years-old. She also gained control of 50% of the company in 2012 when she turned 30, and gained full control when she turned 35 in 2017.
So far during Lynsi's tenure, she has brought In-N-Out to two more states —Texas in 2011 and Oregon in 2015 — and brought the total restaurant count to 334 across six states.
To keep with its commitment towards quality, all In-N-Out locations are never more than 500 miles from its ingredient distribution centers, which is a reason why Lynsi does not intend to move the chain outside its current region. There are reports that it will expand into Colorado, but even if it faces the threat of Shake Shack ($NYSE:SHAK) today, it does not plan to go outside the West and retaliate.
In-N-Out: a glowing corporate profile
On the corporate front, Lynsi is popular with In-N-Out’s 26,000 employees, to say the least.
Currently, she has a 99% approval rating out of all anonymous reviews written by current and former employees on the company. That makes her the fourth ranked large company executive on the website's list of top CEOs of 2018, an incredible feat for someone who has lost her family and nearly her entire career as a young adult.
There is a good reason for these high marks; In-N-Out pays its restaurant employees $13 an hour, which is well above the average that other restaurant workers make in the states it operates in. Part and full-time employees can enroll in dental, vision and life insurance programs, and full-time employees also get health insurance and paid vacation.
As In-N-Out continues into the 21st century under the direction of a third-generation Snyder, its employees are confident that it will continue to be one of the most sought-after fast food chains on the West Coast.