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Traditional In-N-Out Burger Faces an Uncertain Future

Fast food: The family-owned chain has prospered for 52 years, but some wonder whether its values can survive.


She and Richard had shared a common religious devotion. It was Richard who selected the biblical citations that appear on the underside of the chain's drinking cups, hoping they might make a difference in someone's life. Under Richard, In-N-Out had expanded from 18 restaurants to 93 as it pushed into Nevada.

Esther's relationship with Guy was different. Guy, seven years older, was often at odds with Richard.

"When Richie started putting [the Bible references] on the cups, Guy had just got done making up these T-shirts with a girl sitting on top of a Double-Double [burger]," says Jake Jefferson, a close friend of Guy's. "But he didn't want to bring them out because of the thing with Richie. They are in still boxes somewhere. They never came out."

Guy assumed the top post at In-N-Out after Richard's death and kept the company growing. But Guy had long battled with drugs and, in early December, he was found dead in bed at his mobile home in Lancaster. An autopsy determined that he had died of an overdose of a painkiller.

Preserving the Culture

Esther Snyder refuses to talk about Guy, but the pain is still visible in her face.

As for now, Snyder said, she plans to slow In-N-Out's rate of expansion a bit. Beyond that, she said, she hopes the company's way of operating will endure, just as it has for more than half a century.

The employees share that hope.

"Rich passed away; Guy passed away. But what they stood for and what their father stood for and what Esther stands for really hasn't changed," said Carl Van Fleet, the chain's vice president of operations. "We have a team of people out in our stores that are all similarly committed, and I think that goes a real, real long way and speaks to how we have gotten through the tragedies."

Chuck Papez, looking back on his 46 years with In-N-Out, said he hopes that his brother, two children and a nephew--all of whom work for the company--will have the same kind of opportunity he had.

He said he knew after a few days on the job that this was the company he would bond with for life.

"It was special right from the beginning. It was family."


Made to Order

For five decades, In-N-Out Burger has run its business like few others in the fast-food world. Here's how the Irvine-based chain stacks up in a few industry measures:

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