In-N-Out Burger: “We’re Not Coming to Downtown LA without a (Suburban) Drive-Thru Location”

In-N-Out Burger is stubborn to maintain its suburban model of drive-thru restaurants, refusing to open an "urban location" in Downtown LA (Photo: In-N-Out Burger)

In-N-Out Burger is stubborn to maintain its suburban model of drive-thru restaurants, refusing to open an “urban location” in Downtown LA (Photo: In-N-Out Burger)

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?

An urban format location for In-N-Out Burger in Glendale along Brand Blvd (Photo: colonelchi)

An urban format location for In-N-Out Burger in Glendale along Brand Blvd (Photo: colonelchi)

Another urban format In-N-Out Burger in Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco (Photo: Allenlai7)

Another urban format In-N-Out Burger in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco (Photo: Allenlai7)

62 responses to “In-N-Out Burger: “We’re Not Coming to Downtown LA without a (Suburban) Drive-Thru Location”

  1. The level of stupidity coming from the real estate department of in n out is mind boggling.

  2. First off, there is an In-N-Out near LAX although it’s not inside of LAX. LAX itself is a giant mess and I don’t doubt that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble to try and establish a high profile location there.

    Second, DTLA is not the same thing as Glendale or Fisherman’s Wharf. The Glendale location is located on the side of the Galleria and when it opened had a lot of foot traffic accordingly. Fisherman’s Wharf does as well. DTLA does have the Macy’s Plaza which like the Galleria has an ugly brick facade but still lacks the overall concentration of people to feed a pedestrian In-N-Out.

    There’s a lot of exciting things going on in DTLA, but it’s really spread out.

    • David – If you think Macy’s Plaza is the only potential location or pedestrian feeder for an In-N-Out in Downtown L.A, you’re perception of Downtown is pretty outdated. Glendale has foot traffic, but it’s very contained and doesn’t extend much beyond the crosswalk between the Americana and Glendale Galleria, both of which are fortresses that inhale pedestrian life from the street. Downtown L.A. is a legit urban center, that while still developing, offers a much more engaging pedestrian atmosphere that extends beyond a single street or crosswalk. There are large employers throughout downtown with workers that come down for lunch each day and a growing residential base to support businesses like In-N-Out – not to mention the huge crowds that regularly come downtown for conventions, shows and cultural events.

      • Sorry, tried to reply and encountered a database error. Briefly:

        Macy’s Plaza wasn’t presented as a good suggestion, just a comparison that shares a brick facade, and indoor shopping.

        I have done the work lunch in DTLA. I cited the Citibank Mendo location as an example of a restaurant that only really does lunch, and suggested that perhaps In-N-Out would want more from their presence. Yes, I realize that they’re open until 7:15p now, and that Fig and 7th is open until 9.

        I then suggested that people at conventions and so forth aren’t really looking to look far for food. I suggested Figueroa and Pico as a good area to capture the convention crowd. The problem is then that would be too far for the working lunch crowd to walk and if they have to drive, then you want the 45 parking spaces and 15 car drive thru.

      • Compared to ten years ago, yes, downtown LA does have more foot traffic. Still doesn’t even come close to comparing to the downtown of any other major metro area. I was at a restaurant right downtown on figueroa a few days ago and saw – surprise, surprise – relatively few cars (as usual, no traffic around 1pm at all) and a few pedestrians. So sure, there were people outside, but not many. It’s still not a big downtown by any stretch of the imagination. You’ll find more people walking around outside in downtown Chicago during a polar vortex than you will in downtown LA at almost any time.

  3. Mr. Yen:

    Great piece. I also do not understand In-N-Outs reluctance to enter the thriving DTLA market, especially given what you point out to be a complete lie by their real estate department regarding to notion of needing 1 acre of land for parking and waitings lines. Could it be that every member of their real estate department also resides out in suburbia where they are forced to hop into their car just to go down the street to pic up groceries?!?! I, for one, do not need to sit in my car as it endlessly idles for 10 mins to enjoy a sweet tasting In-N-Out burger. Unless car fumes is the “secret” ingredient that makes their burgers so tasty, I sugggest they seriously take another look at DTLA and see it for what it can offer them: a thriving community of careful and probably loyal consumers!

  4. First of, great piece Mr. Yen Considering everyone wants to know when In-n-out will get here. I think it’s kind of absurd that there is any argument to be made that any given location has to have “foot traffic” or even more absurd “an acre of land” in order for In-N-Out to set up shop. I’m not kidding when I say, if you build it, people will come. You could put an IN n Out on top of a skyscraper and there will always be a line and especially so in DTLA.

    However, I happen to have the perfect solution that also uses the Shake Shack model. (Dramatic Pause)

    Why not remodel that big ugly cement park that goes by the name of Pershing Square????? There is a perfectly useless underground parking structure which would work quite nicely for an underground drive through and an In-N-out would bring undeniable impact and foot traffic to a space that is frozen in time.

    If any of you have been to the madison square park Shake Shack location you see the perfect union of public space and private entrepreneurship. You activate that park to foot traffic for miles around since it’s right at the heart of the city. I mean, who doesn’t want to sit outside and enjoy a double double while the car fumes stay underground and maybe while watching a concert or ice skating in the park? Answer: everyone.

  5. In-N-Out is headquartered in Irvine, so that might give you an indication of the company’s MO.

  6. Who cares about In-n-Out – we have enough burger joints downtown.
    In-n-Out is as overrated as Trader Joe’s & Oprah Winfrey.
    The Counter, Fat Burger, Umami. I’m good on the burgers.

  7. As to LAX, the location on Sepulveda & Lincoln is one of the company’s top 10 locations, so the need at LAX is zero.
    As to DTLA, don’t be surprised to see the company find a location just outside DTLA, meaning maybe Lincoln Heights, or a freeway-oriented site like the Sears project on Olympic/Soto.
    The location in Glendale is not one of the top performers in the chain. In fact, that unit may be the reason the company refuses to do any more sites like it.

    • I dont have any numbers, but basing it just on anecdotal evidence, that Glendale location has been and is packed day and night since it was opened. How could it not be a top location?

      • Based on my casual observations of the Glendale location, it is not packed day and night. The Hollywood location that has parking and a drive thru consistently has a much higher volume of traffic. The old two lane drive-thru location in Pasadena does more volume.

        • Even if Glendale isn’t a top performer for them I don’t think its exclusively due to it’s lack of a drive through. The amount of foot traffic that In-N-Out would get downtown would easily match a higher performing drive through location. That’s what employment and residential density do.

          • Lawrence – I doubt the amount of sales a walk-in ONLY In-N-Out would get in DTLA could easily match the $ales volume of a higher performing walk-in + drive thru DTLA location.

  8. That is truly ridiculous how they go against their word, when there’s one in Glendale without a drive thru, anyways I know the perfect spot in downtown for one. In the corner of Olympic and Figueroa where the Car wash is.

  9. How about Union Station. Isn’t that whole area considered to be a drive thru, for trains.

  10. I’m pretty content with the Escondite and really could care less about In-N-Out. Who needs a burger chain anyway, other than tourists and bridge-and-tunnelers who don’t know any better.

  11. BUT FISHERMAN’S WHARF. jerks.

  12. I could care less about them. I honestly don’t understand all the hype with In&Out. We don’t need them dt.

  13. OK, Bryan B, the person who said turn Pershing square into an in-n-out, you are no longer permitted to talk about anything ever again. Don’t get me wrong, the remodel of P square made many years ago by the single worst designer in the world is terrible, and that man should be imprisoned for what he did. P square is still a historic central park for the city. The idea of turning it into a burger joint might be the stupidest thing I, or any other Los Angeles native, has ever heard. I think we should rebuild the square, make it a park and public area we should be proud of. Destroy the monstrosity that is has become and bring the square back to life.

    As for in-n-out, I’m over it. I love in-n-out, but if they don’t want to come to DTLA, no problem. If I really want it I can drive out. Shake Shack on the other hand would be amazing. I would LOVE to see on eon the west coast, in DTLA. Brigham, get on it man, If you make this happen, your first meal there is on me.

  14. Shake Shack would be a welcome upgrade from In N Out anyways. I’m voting for Shake Shack pronto!

  15. Thanks to counting cars via satellite maps, instead of calling the company stupid (in your fb post) for what you think is an absurd requirement, check out the Hollywood location. I count 50 parking spots and a drive-thru that can handle 20 cars. This is an example of the amount of business that In-N-Out thinks it would do (in DTLA).

  16. Whether or not you “get” In-N-out or like them, the fact is they are an L.A. institution and should have a location in the heart of the city from which their name has become synonymous (along with so many other businesses). Their suburb only mentality is ridiculous and outdated. Although not coming downtown won’t ultimately impact their bottom line (they rake in the money), their management team is clueless when it comes to this. What’s ironic is they currently sell an updated T-shirt at their restaurants that prominently features the Downtown skyline, yet they refuse to come here.

    Also, even if their Glendale store is not a top performer, I doubt it’s exclusively due to it’s format. There’s a big difference between Glendale and Downtown L.A. – Can you imagine the lunch crowds alone that a Downtown L.A. In-N-Out would get? I’d venture to guess they that would do very well during dinner hours as well, particularly following events at Staples Center or anywhere else in the area. I’m sure Five Guys and Shake Shack are both eyeing DTLA at this point.

  17. Sounds like a classic “Give them what they want and they will come.” In-in-Out has prime land already bought in many loctations waiting to be build on when they get to them. In-n-Out doesn’t need DTLA. You should go with a second class “over priced” place like a 5 Guys or a Shake Shack .

  18. The In-n-Out North Beach, San Francisco, is part of a multi-unit commercial building and does NOT have a drive-through. Good people of downtown LA, be strong!

  19. TheBigTizzle (@TheBigTizzle)

    Working in commercial real estate myself, I’m guy essing they’ve done their homework and know what they would require. If they went on a tour with the , it would be appear they are acting in good faith. Consider this: 1) they are absolutely ecstatic that downtown is eager to have them. 2) they would come here in a heartbeat if the research indicated it would be profitable.

    My guess is that the model for them is the Universal City location. People leaving downtown after Staples Center events, after work downtown, after LA Live, to and from USC games/events. They do rely more on drive thru traffic and it is part of their identity. The fact is that neither the vegan artist loft dweller or the South Park Bottega customer provide the volume they need to make it work. Consider the fate of another LA institution, Fatburger that is currently getting hit on Figueroa between 8th and 9th. I love burgers and live behind it and have been three or four times to bring burgers home. When I walk past it I’m heading out to a bar/restaurant. Why did they recently cut their hours from being open 24 hours? I’m guessing it has to do with the one-way street parking lot of cars that have no where to park and who would probably swing though if they didn’t have to get out of their cars on their way north (suburbs, I suppose). Fatburger probably agrees that In N Out would need a drive through. My best guess is you’re looking at the Figueroa corridor around USC or somewhere on Sunset/Chavez between Grand and Alameda. We spend all of our time talking about how I walkable downtown is so we can’t get mad at them for responding to the car centered culture. They’d be foolish to do otherwise. It’s not like they’re causing it. My .02

    • Fatburger is stuck in a bad location (at least for the next year or so). It’s too far for office types and there aren’t exactly a ton of residents in the immediate area. If they hold out another year or two till more residential and hotels hit the area, they’ll be fine.

  20. I’ll be sure to only visit their downtown Glendale location (ok, well, I will try my hardest to only visit that location) to show them that they don’t need a drive-thru to be successful.

    DTLA should resist any attempts by in-and-out to impose their dumb, car-centric sprawl proposal.

    Also, vegetarians do like to go there for their grilled cheese and animal style fries, both on the secret menu. :-)

  21. Scott M B Gustafson

    In the meantime I’ll keep eating at Wurstküche.

  22. Let them live there business model in the burbs. They don’t deserve DTLA and I’ll take Tommy’s.

  23. Could it be that the drive through is not as valuable to In-n-Out as the real estate their stores are built on? A lot of their company’s value is probably in its real estate portfolio (land acquisition, pad sites) which is why they are probably not interested in leased space.

  24. FYI there is a in&bout in the LagunaHiills mall with no drive thru -it’s packed anytime of day – it’s on the edge of the malls parking lot – not in the mall! I would have killed for a dbldbl during the 5 yrs I worked in DTLa! Me thinks I&o was POd at city hall in the past!

  25. I’d rather see a Zankou Chicken open up in downtown. That would be incredibly successful for the company.

  26. Anything that keeps In-n-Out down and out is good by me. They spout right-wing politics, are mysogenistic, and push their religion on people. I will not give a company like that my business, period.

  27. Bring more business to the one in Glendale, bring their profits up, make that restaurant the best in socal, and maybe they might consider putting one in DT.

  28. Antonette DeVito

    Five Guys is better.

  29. Agreed on Five Guys. And if you want a shake, then Fatburger is better.

  30. I get why they do not want a location in a mixed-used building. I love downtown an all, but you CAN NOT have it all. The culture of In-N-Out is founded in drive-thru and suburban car culture. The idea that you can eat a juicy fresh oozing burger out of your car with a significant other is not conducive to the walking the dog latte culture of DTLA. Yea there are a few locations that In-N-Out has experimented with in different locations, but I think they have realized that their food is best experienced with a car. Brigham, stop trying to “pedestrianize” and “downtownize” everything that you love, and shame everything you hate out of downtown. I have NOTHING against the improvement of downtown, but asking for In-N-Out is just too much.

  31. Pingback: In-N-Out Has Insane Requirements For Opening A New Location - Car Culture - Curbed LA

  32. Christopher Eaton

    Trader Joe’s and In-N-Out can really go to hell. So over both of them. The parent companies are classist, racist, and in the case of In-N-Out, hopelessly clueless and out of touch. I support the companies that support my neighborhood and want to make DTLA home. Trader Joe’s is full of really unhealthy food and In-N-Out is “fresh” heart attack food. Shop elsewhere.

  33. The In-N-Out in Placentia is in the usual suburban location but it has no drive-thru.

  34. Pingback: Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog Los Angeles

  35. As far as I’m concerned, they can keep their Jesus meat in the ‘burbs.

  36. I’d rather have an In N Out on an acre of land in Downtown than a 73 story building. A 73 story building will generate far more traffic than a low density restaurant.

  37. Wow – people are passionate about In-N-Out
    Anybody that would rather see an acre downtown dedicated to a drive through needs to move to Riverside County. City centers are for high density, not idling cars waiting for their mediocre burger.
    Until retail opens downtown and there’s heavy foot traffic 7 days/week, there will never be enough foot traffic to sustain In-N-Out on Saturday and Sunday – or after 6pm for that matter.
    Let’s set our standards a little higher.

  38. Ew, drive throughs. Get it together, LA.

  39. I remember in years past that In-N-Out would park one of its mobile-kitchen trucks up on Hope Street fairly regularly… the crowds were huge. Does In-N-Out still frequent DTLA with its food truck/s?

  40. Downtown LA has no God-given right to an In-N-Out. If the city doesn’t want to permit a suburban style location, then In-N-Out won’t locate there. Simple as that. I think they could do well just west of Downtown, for example replacing the McDonald’s in the Home Depot shopping center, but that’s their business decision.

  41. Their company, their business…They set the rules. Get it?

  42. They need each location to perform at a super high rate to cover their high pay and generous benefits. They experimented with building 5 non-drive thrus maybe 15 years ago. They’re the worst performers in the chain. The company will never go back as the numbers from those locations are continual reminders for why they shouldn’t. Turns out that a big chunk of the drive-thru customers won’t get out of their cars. Inside may be packed, but all the lost business that won’t come inside hurts too much. Fishermen’s Wharf selling a unique t-shirt doesn’t make much of a difference. The other 3 are in Placentia (which had a western motif in another failed experiment), Laguna Hills, and Mill Valley.

  43. There’s also a location in Marin County that was built using their standard building template (including a drive-through window), but the city didn’t allow them to use it – so it’s walk-in only.

Add Your Thoughts