We Spoke to the People Queueing for London’s In-N-Out Burger Pop-Up
“If the burger is shitty, I’ll get some spray paint out and write “Shitty” across the front of the shop.”
As I join the queue formed outside an unassuming steakhouse in North West London—today home to an exclusive In-N-Out pop-up—a confused tourist approaches me.
"Are these people all queuing for a job interview or something?" he asks.
Nope. All these young people don't want some silly job. They want burgers. In-N-Out burgers.
With outposts across the West Coast of America, the fast food chain's kitsch, 50s-style branding, Instagram-worthy trays of Animal fries, and "secret" menu have earned it cult following that surpasses that of any other American burger joint.
Of course, part of In-N-Out's appeal is also down to the burgers themselves, supposedly made with fresh ingredients and at outposts situated no further than 500 miles from In-N-Out headquarters to ensure quality control.
This rule seems to have been thrown out of the plane window at today's pop-up in London's Swiss Cottage neighbourhood, situated some 5,000 miles from California.
To add to the confusing choice of venue, In-N-Out's UK pop-up is also inexplicably running for just four hours—and on a weekday. Nevertheless, when I arrive at 10.30, half an hour before doors are due to open, the line of people already stretches down the road. Not surprising, really. Like In-N-Out's other pop-ups outside the US, today's event has already achieved more internet hype than any political party conference could ever hope for.
The queue seems to be half American ex-pats looking to get their fix of grilled cheese and half London food bloggers, all carefully watched over by a crowd of overly caffeinated news reporters with big cameras.
To find out whether any burger could ever be worth the trek to North London on a Wednesday morning, I chatted to the In-N-Out disciples at the front of the queue.
MUNCHIES: Hi guys, how long have you been here? Liam: I got here at about half eight and it's now half ten. Queuing for two hours is a lot quicker than a flight to LA to get one!
I actually had an In-N-Out in LA and I personally don't think it's worth a flight, or a morning of queuing I've had one in LA and also had one last time they did a pop up in London four years ago, and I think it was pretty close to West Coast quality. I picked up on it on the Burger Addict blog—it's the second best burger in the world.
Do they just fly out a bunch of Animal Fries to London? Last time, they just shipped over cheese and sourced everything else from London. It was still pretty good. But Britain's got the best meat in the world so it's fine.
I've just noticed you're wearing a burger t-shirt! Yeah, it's a Bleeker Street t shirt, who are the first best burger in the world.
What are you going to order? Have you planned it out? The Double-Double. It's double meat and double cheese, and I'm going to go Animal-Style, which is usually a hidden menu item in America. It's with grilled onions and more sauce. There's like 60 hidden menu items. The one with the lettuce is Protein-style.
How are you going to feel if the burgers here really suck? I'll just go back to Bleeker. I've been known to have more than one burger in a day.
Good luck with your health, Liam!
So, you're both American. This is like your homecoming. Sahara: We've been queuing for a couple of hours because we used to live in America, and In-N-Out was our local burger joint. Moving back here, there is nothing like it. When Five Guys came out, it was great but In-N-Out is the best. We miss it a lot.
It must feel weird to have a bunch of reporters outside what you feel is just like your local fast food place. Sahara: It's a good thing because if lots of people here like it and word gets out, then they might open up here and have a successful business here. All of my friends when I go back to America are like, "Oh my god, you had an In-N-Out burger?" Everyone wants one here.
What are you guys ordering? Sahara: Animal-Style!
Minow: Well unfortunately, I wanted to buy my other daughter a grilled cheese to take home, but they only let you buy one burger after waiting for such a long time.
Shame you can't bulk-buy ten and stockpile them in your freezer.
How long have you been here? Stephanie: Since 9 AM. I'm from San Diego so this just reminds me of home, basically. I've lived out here for ten years, and every time I go home this is my first stop.
Why not just go to Five Guys? I'm a West Coaster and the East Coast are always trying to big up Five Guys. But they just wish they had an In-N-Out.
Have you worked out your order yet? I already got it in my head: Animal-Style fries, a cheeseburger with ketchup and mustard instead of sauce, and a Neapolitan shake. But if they don't do shakes, I can probably let that one go. I'm alright with that.
Did you have to sack of work to queue here all morning? I'm an archaeologist, but I actually worked three extra hours yesterday so I could come here today.
So, have you had an In-N-Out before? Michael: Yeah in 2012, when I went to America. It was just as good as people described it. But I missed the last London pop-up.
What are you ordering? A Double-Double. But there's some hype about a secret menu.
What are you gonna do if the burger is bad? I'll just go Burger King afterwards.
You can't eat two burgers before midday, Michael. That's absurd. Oh yes, you can. One time, I ate 13 burgers in a week. But it was around National Burger Day, so, y'know.
I don't think that's adequate explanation for eating quite that many, but enjoy!
How long have you guys been queuing? Ben: About 45 minutes. The people at the front who've been queueing for hours are mental.
Waiting to order lunch at 10 AM is a bit mental too, though Will: This is breakfast! I'm not often up this early in the morning, to be honest.
What are you normally doing in the mornings? Ben: I'm a freelance copywriter and I make music.
Will: I'm a DJ.
Ben: So slackers, basically. I have had a few calls from people asking me to do stuff this morning and I've had to turn them down. So I've actually lost out on some work to be here. But it's cool. It's fine. I'm enjoying having a bit of me-time.
Will: Meat-time, more like!
Good one, Will. What do you think of the setting? Ben: It's weird. I'm curious to know who is in charge. Like, why? Why is it in a Brazilian steakhouse?
Will: You would have thought they'd have made a bit more effort to In-N-Out-ing the venue. I imagine photos of this place are going to look a bit poxy.
So, what have you heard about In-N-Out? Ben: Well, there's some guy online who relocated from the West Coast to the East Coast, and got his friend to freeze and Fed-Ex over a load of burgers. And he deconstructed them all and weighed every ingredient to figure out how to recreate it exactly and wrote a huge long blog post about it. And he says he got really close—close enough that he can get by until they bring one to the East Coast.
Sounds like he needs some mates to me.
How do you feel about this queue, hey? Georgie: I have absolutely no qualms. I've never had one but Lochlin assures me it'll be worth the wait.
Lochlin: I take the word of Anthony Bourdain as gospel, so I had to be here. I'm getting an Animal Burger on his recommendation, which I believe is with extra relish. Cos he's an all-round brilliant guy.
What are you going to do if the burger is really shitty? Georgie: If the burger is shitty, I'll get some spray paint out and write "Shitty" across the front of the shop. Nah. If it's bad, I'll just have to accept that and make my way home. Or get super fucked up! I've noticed you guys are already on the tinnies at 11 AM.
Lochlin: I'm actually going to yoga after this.
That makes absolutely no sense as a plan for a Wednesday morning. What do you do for work? Georgie: He's a 70s porn star.
Lochlin: No, I'm actually a solicitor and I've got some interviews for jobs in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I thought I'd use my time constructively to drink some early morning Stella, eat burgers, and go to yoga.
You do you, Lochlin.