Why Thomas Keller Loves In-N-Out Burger

If I told you fifteen years ago that a family-owned California hamburger chain founded in 1948 was going to beat McDonald’s in hamburgers, what would you have said?

“Beat McDonald’s in hamburgers? Are you crazy?” And you might have added: “Burger King’s the poster child for why that will never work.”

The problem is that Burger King is a classic, #1-focused competitor who, by virtue of its focus, condemns itself to be a poor imitation of #1, offering effectively the same product and same value proposition.

In-N-Out Burger, other the other hand, is a different animal. They do one thing — burgers — and they do it well (i.e., quality product). No salads. No chicken sandwiches. No Croissanwiches or McGriddles. No fish sandwiches.

I remember first observing this about 10 years ago when I was eating a Double Double in parking lot of the In-N-Out on Rengstorff in Mountain View. While the In-N-Out drive-thru was 20 cars deep, the McDonald’s across the street was empty. I thought to myself: “wow, the power of focus and quality.” So I know that I’ve always liked In-N-Out.

What surprised me was to find out the the top chef in Northern California, Thomas Keller, proprietor of Northern California’s only Michelin three-star, The French Laundry, is a fan as well. Here’s a blurb from the latest issue of Via Magazine (you need to scroll down quite a bit to see it). Bolding mine:

I really respect a company that holds its ground when there is so much pressure to follow the “what’s next, what’s new” trend. In-N-Out’s quality lies in the simplicity of what it promises and delivers. To be able to do something over and over with integrity and excellence, even if it is fast food, is something to be truly admired.

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