Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book Review: In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-The-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain that Breaks All the Rules (2009) by Stacy Perman.

With packages replete with Bible verses and bags proclaiming it's "NOT A FRANCHISED COMPANY, PRIVATELY OWNED AND FAMILY OPERATED", one could say In-N-Out Burger is the anti-McDonald's.

Indeed, that's a recurring theme of Stacy Perman's recent book about the iconoclastic burger chain founded in Baldwin Park, California, and still run from Southern California, as she routinely contrasts the two chains.

Despite the company's traditional reticence, Perman uncovers the history of In-Out-Burger. It's a history of triumph and tragedy--especially with the founders' family, the Synders.

Harry and Esther Snyder opened their first burger stand in 1948. Harry innovated the two-way intercom for drive-through orders, according to Perman. He also was a stickler for quality, service and cleanliness. To maintain these high standards, Harry refused to cut corners--either with wages (paying above industry norms) or ingredients (insisting on using only the middle cuts of tomatoes for example).

They had two children, Guy and Rich. Esther then saw each of these men predecease her--the later two in their forties in the most tragic of circumstances: drugs and an airplane crash, respectively.

Of particular interest to lawyers, the story also intertwines with a number of lawsuits, the most recent being a fight for control of the company played out in middle of the last decade.

Credit Perman for selecting a topic ripe for the picking (sorry). I'm not aware of anyone else writing a book about In-N-Out, despite its obvious appeal. Especially since In-N-Out is not a public company, Perman had to dig to obtain the volume of information she marshaled here. She reports conducting over one hundred interviews and reviewing thousands of legal documents. (p. 289.) She deserves praise for this.

However, Perman--an admitted fan (292)--gets carried away at times praising the food. For example, her opening chapter chronicles the near paroxysm of ecstasy of those who eat there, as if there was some kind of narcotic in it--a theme to which she randomly returns. There's no such secret ingredient of course. After all, it's just a quality burger--with a gripping story wrapped around it.

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