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This Is Why In-N-Out Burger Will Never Come to the East Coast

The unicorn of burger brands will remain out of reach east of Texas.

In-N-Out, the stratospherically popular West Coast burger chain, currently operates restaurants in just seven states: its home state of California, as well as Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Oregon, and, as of 2020, Colorado. Much to the chagrin of East Coast residents—and in particular, New Yorkers—the chain has zero presence on the Eastern Seaboard. And by all accounts, In-N-Out wouldn't have it any other way.

Secret In-N-Out Menu Items You Have to Try at Least Once

There's certainly no lack of demand for those legendary burgers beyond the West Coast. Rumors of In-N-Out setting up shop in major cities on the East Coast, especially New York City, have been flying for decades and the excitement they generate almost always gets out of hand. When an anonymous April Fools Day prankster advertised In-N-Out store openings in the Big Apple in 2010, seemingly half of the city took to Twitter to celebrate the announcement (and then collectively mourn the loss).

New Yorkers had their hopes dashed again in 2019, when a stray but fully preserved Double Double—one of the chain's famous burgers—was found on a random street in Queens, causing a flurry of wishful thinking on social media. But the burger was traced back to a teenager who had flown the specimen with her from California.

So why won't the chain just give in and open an East Coast location? The reason has to do with, as one Harvard Business School alumnus put it, the perfect alignment of In-N-Out's business model and operating model. (Yes, In-N-Out's absence is being pondered even in Cambridge.)

Clues to the chain's operating model can be found right on its website, where it makes a promise of "never freezing, prepackaging, or microwaving food." As broken down by Business Insider, this commitment to freshness means that all In-N-Out restaurants must be located within 300 miles of an In-N-Out meat distribution center. As of 2018, there were only two such distribution centers in existence: one in California, and the other in Texas.

As for the business model, In-N-Out is wholly owned by its founding members, the Snyder family, and does not offer the kind of franchising opportunities that would allow for the brand to expand into eastern territories. "The only reason we would [franchise] is for money, and I wouldn't do it," current president Lynsi Snyder explained in an interview with CBS.

Ultimately, the chain's commitment to using fresh meat and its refusal to start franchising means that, for the time being, the Double-Double is likely to remain out of reach for those located east of Texas. For more, check out There's New Legal Drama Around McDonald's Soft Serve Machines, and don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest restaurant news delivered straight to your inbox.

Owen Duff
Owen Duff is a freelance journalist based in Vermont, home of Ben & Jerry’s. Read more about Owen