American fast-food chain In-N-Out has been literally popping in and out of Metro Manila, teasing the market with surprise pop-up events, giving Filipinos a brief taste of its famed burgers before leaving everyone hanging.
Is this a sign of its impending launch in the country?
No, said Brian Nakao, In-N-Out manager of foreign special events, adding that the company is on a continuous tour, with a team putting up surprise restaurants worldwide.
The keyword is “surprise.” In-N-Out holds events with minimal fanfare and no announcements. “We didn’t place advertising except in your paper,” said Nakao.
It took only one ad for word to spread like wildfire. The In-N-Out pop-up, held at Giligan’s Island in Greenbelt 1, had people queuing up as early as 9 a.m.
Nakao clarified that In-N-Out won’t be opening soon in the Philippines, but “we do have plans to continue doing these events around the world. This is actually the sixth that we’ve done. We do 14 events a year … reach out to different places, and a lot of times when we’re busy, like today, we’ll go back to that country multiple times. We want to come back to the Philippines.”
Before coming to the country, Nakao and his team were in Japan, Korea and Hong Kong. While it seemed the pop-up event in Greenbelt was held on a whim, it actually takes a lot of planning to put up a quickie In-N-Out, given its stringent standards. “It’s a pretty big production for such a small, short event, but I just want to make sure everything’s right and good,” said Nakao.
It is this strict adherence to quality that has also limited the brand’s expansion. Despite being in the business for over 60 years, In-N-Out has ventured out of its West Coast turf only recently, starting with its Texas branch.
“In the States, we base everything on quality and freshness—we debone our own meat and make our own meat patties… We’re really picky, and we want to control what we’re serving our customers, so that’s what limits us from going out to any other place. Right now we’re in Texas. I’m assuming we’ll be further East soon… We don’t know in the future, we may be out here,” said Nakao.
It seems the only secret to In-N-Out’s crave-worthy burgers is freshness, as Nakao described how his team held the Greenbelt event: “Everything that we can ship was shipped, but
everything that needs to be sourced locally was sourced here… Lettuce was leafed this morning, the tomatoes were sliced this morning, the onions were chopped and sliced this morning, it’s about as fresh as you can get it. The buns were specially made for us, and they were delivered yesterday afternoon… We actually made the meat patties by hand. It’s like going to the grocery store and making your own burger.”
It really made a difference. We’re picky burger eaters, but when we were served a Double Double Animal Style (double meat patties with proprietary Animal Style sauce, pickles, extra sauce, grilled onions and mustard fried onto the meat), we found ourselves wolfing the whole thing down without picking out the onions or pickles.
The burger was tasty in its entirety, and the freshness of the vegetables pleased our palate. Trying to restrain ourselves, we ate only half of our burger. But upon getting home, we gave up all pretense and scarfed down the other half. It tasted just as good earlier, though we popped our takeout in the oven toaster to warm it up.
For the Greenbelt event, In-N-Out partnered with Foodreel Inc., a local catering company. Ferdy Avendaño, Foodreel general manager, said he had no idea they would be handling In-N-Out’s pop-up: “A local firm handling In-N-Out’s intellectual property contacted us, but it didn’t say who the client is.”
Was he surprised upon finding out? “Oo naman,” said Avendaño. “It’s the holy grail of hamburgers in the world…”
Also included in the organizing team was Marge Arellano of Events by Marge.
Avendaño said the second event was wilder than the first one held at Bonifacio Global City in 2013. “Now people were more prepared. Dati they were doubting if it was the real deal, parang, ‘Talaga? Eh wala pa nga sa New York ang In-N-Out tapos andito na,’ even though it has been doing pop-ups for the last three years.”
In fact, when we got to Greenbelt a little past 3 p.m., there were people outside Giligan’s who were being turned away but remained hopeful. At 5 p.m., when the In-N-Out team was packing up, a man with a heavy French accent came in, his hands full with canned drinks. “Is this In-N-Out?” he asked. “Oh, sorry, we’re done for the day,” replied someone from the team. “Oh. When are you coming back?” the man followed up.
But when, really, will In-N-Out be back, or where is it headed next?
Said Nakao: “All that is confidential. We don’t like to tell anybody. We want to make it a surprise and see who shows up. But we’ll hit a few different countries than we did last year, but I like to keep it a secret, like today. No one knew about the event until this morning. It’s exciting to see the reaction of the people and see their faces when they come in.”