Bob Groeneveld/Special to the Langley Advance
Every In-N-Out burger served in Langley has international significance.
The approximately 1,300 In-N-Out burgers that will be eaten at Langley Good Times Cruise-In this Saturday will be the only ones that the fast food chain will have served outside the U.S.A. this year.
Indeed, that’s the way it’s been for the past dozen or so years that In-N-Out has been loading its truck and heading north to Langley every September.
In-N-Out is a California-based chain, with a recently opened outlet in Oregon the farthest north they’ve brought their regular operation so far. There are no outlets anywhere in Canada.
“We’re the only show they go to outside the United States,” said Cruise-In director Riccardo Sestito. “They bring the biggest truck they have. They used to cover the truck to get across the border, because they’d get so many phone calls asking them why they were in Washington.”
It took a bit of convincing to get that big truck rolling.
“When I was president of Cruise-In, I reached out to In-N-Out about our event,” said Sestito, “so I guess they checked us out online, and they came the next year.”
It was actually former Cruise-In director Gord Wintrup who had “put a bug in their ear” a couple years earlier, Sestito noted.
But after their first participation in Cruise-In, the In-N-Out bosses were hooked.
“They actually flew up the first year we had them here, in the Value Village parking lot,” said Sestito. “They were so amazed at the lineup we had. They’d been to events all over the United States, and they’d never had lineups that long, even when they had been the only food vendor, and Cruise-In had other venues that sell food.”
Sestito recounted, “They were blown away by that.”
Bringing the burgers north is no picnic. The process of getting them through the border from the U.S. into Canada is long and involved. And it starts over every year, in February or March, to prepare for that year’s Cruise-In.
“I have to invite them up every year,” said Sestito. “Then I send a letter to the border, Canada Customs, saying we’re holding an event… we’re inviting In-N-Out Burgers for the day.”
The border folks have to know the number of employees coming north, and that there is a specific stall assigned at the Cruise-In, “and that all the money being raised is coming to the Cruise-In, so we’re non-profit and it’s not taking away jobs from somebody else.”
There have been hiccups.
“One year they wouldn’t let the burgers through,” said Sestito, “and another they wouldn’t let the cheese in.”
A change in Canadian government policy regarding foreign workers almost soured the deal a couple of years ago.
“We worked on that for months and finally came to an agreement [with the government],” Sestito said.
It’s worth the effort. he insisted, noting, in addition to their sponsorship fee, In-N-Out gives Cruise-In “all the money from the burgers they sell. All that money goes to the Cruise-In charities. They don’t take anything.”
Asked what makes In-N-Out burgers so special, Sestito responded with two words: “Car culture.”
And then he added, “It’s just different. They make the burgers fresh, and they’re so picky on presentation. People love them.”
The burgers’ popularity presents its own problems. Because of their limited numbers, the burgers are sold through tickets. Sales are regulated to ensure that everyone who buys a ticket is guaranteed a fresh-cooked burger.
“We’ve fine-tuned it,” Sestito explained. “They start cooking as soon as we start selling.”
Part of that fine-tuning has included limiting burger ticket sales to four per person. In the past, some people would buy 10 to 15 tickets, and resell them, which would make it difficult for cooks to keep pace with demand.
“Usually we’re done by 2:30,” said Sestito, “but the cooks will wait a bit before cleaning up, to make sure everybody has got their burger – so nobody is left empty-handed.”