California Cuisine

I love traveling. (I especially love it when a consulting project takes me to Southern California in the winter.) But the thing I really love is the unique regional cuisine I get to experience when I travel.

My current trip started in LA for a meeting followed by a dinner at Fleming’s, one of my all-time favorite steakhouses, having become a fan at the original Fleming’s near where I lived in Newport Beach. But it wasn’t the Fleming’s that captivated my attention. It was the Habit Burger we drove past on the way to Fleming’s.

I’ve still not been to a Habit Burger, but it reminds me that even though most people think of fashion-forward “California-style” pizza or Wolfgang Puck, the real “California cuisine” is the rich tradition of fabulous burger joints, starting with the original McDonald’s and including such greats as Fatburger, Ruby’s Diner, Carl’s Jr., Coco’s Famous Hamburgers, the brand I moved to California to work with, Jack in the Box, and, of course, In-N-Out Burger.

What is it about In-N-Out Burger?
Even more fascinating to me, though, was my brother-in-law’s reaction when I told him the story yesterday. He told me his own In-N-Out story. He was attending his nephew’s graduation in Menifee, near Temecula, California. The stadium graduation was scheduled to start at 6:00, but since they wanted front row seats, they had arrived at 4:00. After an hour of waiting (and with an hour to go until the ceremony) his sister’s husband called home and recruited one of the other kids to make a run to In-N-Out for 10 Double-Doubles (with fries) to be passed through the stadium fence to tide them over until the graduation ceremony began.In-N-Out Burger’s cult status was confirmed for me on Friday night. I was attending a wine tasting holiday party–lovely food, cool guests, wonderful wines, old friends–when all of a sudden, at around 10 or 11, dozens and dozens of Double-Doubles appeared…hot, juicy, neatly wrapped and ready to be paired with a Pinot Noir. It caused a little bit of a sensation as tray after tray of ready-to-eat burgers circulated through the crowd of guests leaving a trail ooh’s and aah’s in its wake. Apparently, In-N-Out Burger even has an “In-N-Out-mobile” that you can schedule to visit your event…if you have the foresight to schedule months in advance.

When I heard his story, it made me realize that this really is the hallmark of a powerful brand…a brand so powerful that it breeds legendary stories by passionate fans with powerful reactions. Nordstrom used to inspire this kind of legendary story…it still occasionally does.

I just re-read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow for an upcoming planning session where the entrepreneur wants to recapture some of the magic that the brand at one time had. In the book, Godin suggests that the key to success is finding a way to stand out and be remarkable, like a purple cow in a field of regular cows. For me, that’s right in line with my belief that if you want people to talk about you, you have to give them something to talk about.

Every now and then, it’s important for every brand to ask itself the question, “What legendary stories has our brand inspired lately?” Great brands really do inspire their own type of brand folklore. Passionate guests with powerful brand loyalty make brands legendary by passing on their powerful stories.

Do you have an In-N-Out Burger story? Post your story below…I’d love to read it.