With 292 locations in five states, one of the most popular burger joints in the country, In-N-Out Burger, is also on the top of Downtown LA’s wish list (along with the elusive Trader Joe’s). Vegetarians aside, who doesn’t crave a juicy double-double with fresh cut fries on the side every now and then? Well, sadly, the burger chain that was born in the suburbs of LA (in Baldwin Park in 1948) may never outgrow its suburban roots to open in the heart of Los Angeles. When asked if In-N-Out would consider opening an urban location in Downtown LA, the answer was an adamant “No.”
In-N-Out Burger would prefer to stick to the suburbs.
According to the real estate department, In-N-Out won’t consider Downtown LA unless it can open a stand-alone restaurant on a sprawly acre of land that provides up to 45 surface parking spots, and get this, a drive-thru lane with capacity for up to 15 cars! Apparently, a long queue of idling cars waiting for their oh-so-delicious burgers is all part of the company’s “car-oriented image” they want to maintain. Remember, In-N-Out Burger is still privately owned, so someone “up there” is still stuck in autotopia — probably in traffic.
Apparently, I was also told that even “the mayor of Los Angeles” (not sure if it was Villaraigosa or Garcetti) tried to woo the fast food chain to Downtown LA (and LAX) by providing a special tour to In-N-Out real estate execs. Obviously that didn’t work because “we’re still not coming to Downtown LA or LAX without a drive-thru location.”
Because Downtown LA happens to be the most urban part of Los Angeles — where our collective goal is to encourage a walking (not driving) lifestyle — an acre of land would be better fit for high-density development (like a 73-story tower), not a suburban-style In-N-Out with “15 idling cars” waiting in line at a drive-thru. No, the better option would be to open an In-N-Out on the ground floor of a mixed-use project that’s easily accessible by pedestrians. As an urban advocate, I’d rather see long lines of people waiting instead of cars.
And this is the part that really frustrates me. There are actually two solid real-world examples of In-N-Out Burgers built in the urban format that would fit right into Downtown LA: right here locally in Glendale and Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Both locations are pedestrian-oriented without any drive-thru lanes. So why were these two locations granted exceptions to In-N-Out’s strict suburban drive-thru model? There was no definitive answer provided by the real estate department when I asked. Perhaps one day In-N-Out Burger will take its foot off the pedal and learn how to walk. Until then, are you out there listening Shake Shack?