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The Secret Struggles of the Reclusive Family Behind America's Most Famous Burger

KCET takes a look behind the curtain at the family that owns In-N-Out

Original In-N-Out location, Baldwin Parks
Original In-N-Out location, Baldwin Parks
Wayne Hsieh/Flickr
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

In the world of high quality fast food hamburgers, there is perhaps no company with a better reputation than In-N-Out. Yet, for all their loyal fans and millions in annual profit, the company itself remains nearly impenetrable, a family-owned fortress of closed books and tight lips where little detailed info leaks out. That’s the way the Snyder family has always done things, since first opening their Baldwin Park burger stand in 1948 —yet behind the scenes, things have certainly not always been so cheery and demure.

A new feature from the team at KCET pulls back much of the red and yellow curtain that has kept the general public at arm’s length from the Snyder family. In the wide-ranging article, the family’s history is laid out as being at once close-knit and also terribly divided. Founders Esther and Harry Snyder gave way to their sons Rich and Guy Snyder. Rich, a young bookish type with a keen eye for the corporate life, stood in stark contrast to his older brother Guy, who struggled with lifelong addiction issues.

Ultimately, as the KCET story goes, Rich was taken in and groomed to run In-N-Out, while Guy was given a nominal position elsewhere in the company. He’s the one who moved In-N-Out’s corporate offices to Irvine, and is the idea man behind the subtle Bible verses you’ll find on the company’s cups and burger wrappers — a nod to the family’s longstanding Christian beliefs.

The close-knit family became terribly divided

But in 1992 Rich’s plane crashed at John Wayne Airport, sending the family (and the company) into turmoil. Guy was then the only surviving heir, though he was largely incapable of running the company and himself had only one child: a daughter named Lynsi. Guy died of a drug overdose in 1999, and by 2006 his daughter Lynsi Torres was in a behind-the-scenes corporate battle for control of the company, ultimately winning out and going on to become one of the country’s youngest billionaires.

The whole KCET piece is a fascinating read, and definitely worth working through for anyone who’s a fan of the company. It’s also a rather comprehensive timeline of family affairs for a family that is otherwise notoriously closed off, and paints a portrait of heartbreak that goes well beyond the cheerful imagery the company leans so heavily on.

Watch: Does In-n-Out or Shake Shack Make a Better Burger?