In-N-Out manager talks about PH experience

Posted at 03/22/2013 5:59 PM | Updated as of 03/24/2013 1:30 PM

MANILA – It was a busy day for In-N-Out’s manager for special foreign events, Brian Nakao, and his two chefs on Thursday as the California-based burger chain put up a “pop-up” store to sell its products to a largely Filipino crowd.

The “pop-up store,” located at the seafood restaurant Clawdaddy at Bonifacio High Street in Taguig City, attracted long lines of people, with some trying their luck way after the event, which ended at 3 p.m.

At 5 p.m., a handful of people were seen talking to Clawdaddy’s staff, asking if they could still buy a burger or two – at any price.

In-N-Out has been tying up with different groups to be able to temporarily set up shop in different countries. Here in the Philippines, it was a company called Foodreel headed by Ferdinand Avendaño.

Avendaño, in turn, tapped Raymund Magdaluyo’s Red Crab group for the project – thus the use of Clawdaddy and its staff as a venue for four hours.

Filipinos waited for hours in line just to get a taste of In-N-Out burgers at Bonifacio High Street in Taguig on Thursday. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

Nakao, who has been tasked to travel to different countries outside the US to identify target markets for In-N-Out, is happy that their products were well-received in the Philippines.

Several people lined up early for the 11 a.m. event, with Clawdaddy’s staff saying that even celebrities such as singer Christian Bautista, actress Anne Curtis and her boyfriend Erwan Heussaff patiently waited in line to get a taste of In-N-Out’s burgers.

“A lot of good response, a lot of people waiting in line. We served a lot of burgers today,” Nakao told a select group of writers on Thursday shortly after the event.

“A lot of people are saying that it tastes exactly the same as the States, so that’s good. That’s what we want to hear,” he added.

Nakao estimates that his two chefs prepared more than 200 burgers during the four-hour period. The most popular, he said, are the “animal style” burgers, which include pickles, extra spread, grilled onions and mustard fried onto each patty.

Asked of the reason behind the “secret” cooking style, he said: “I know the story but I don’t know it very well. So I might kind of ruin it because I’ll probably tell the story wrong.”

The other offering that day is the “protein style,” which replaces the bun with large lettuce leaves.

“It’s a low-carb burger,” Nakao said. “We can also make grilled cheese, without the meat patty.”

Local, fresh ingredients

Nakao said In-N-Out prides itself as offering only the freshest ingredients. Instead of getting most of their ingredients flown in frozen, they bought local meat and produce and replicated the items they serve in the US.

In-N-Out's Double-Double Burger. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

“They (Foodreel) did an amazing job sourcing the products here. They’ve done a fantastic job of looking for the ingredients so the burgers would look exactly as back home. That’s all I can ask for. It’s awesome,” he said.

“Like the onions, we sliced them all by hand this morning. Everything is fresh,” he added. “We went to the grocery store this morning to get some tomatoes because we didn’t have enough. I think that’s what sets us apart from most places, the freshness and quality. We really pick what’s in the burger.”

In the US, In-N-Out has its own meat farm and butcher facility, Nakao said.

Very conservative

Nakao, who has been working for In-N-Out for almost 20 years, noted that the company has been “very conservative” when it comes to its products.

Unlike most of its competitors with their extensive menus and regularly changing concepts, In-N-Out has been offering only three types of burgers since it set up shop in 1948.

The limited menu of In-N-Out at the Clawdaddy restaurant at Bonifacio High Street in Taguig on Thursday. Photo by Karen Flores for ABS-CBNnews.com

“We have a basic concept. We have a simple menu. We only have three burgers on the menu – a hamburger, a cheeseburger, and a double-double. Obviously, you can get it animal style or protein style. We pride ourselves in the simplicity and the quality and freshness of our product,” Nakao said.

“It’s worked in the States, I don’t know if it’s going to work here…We’re very conservative in what we do. We don’t change anything, we don’t like to change the menu. We don’t like to a lot of things outside of the box and have many different concepts. It’s all just burgers, fries and drinks, and it’s worked well for us. So we’d probably continue doing that wherever we go,” he added.

“We just keep it simple. It’s been working for so long and we’re never going to change the way we do things.”

Next stop: PH?

After In-N-Out’s successful “pop-up” store here in the Philippines, Nakao has included the country in his “personal list” of target markets for the brand.

He stressed, however, that he does not have the power to make those kinds of decisions – like where to put the next In-N-Out branch -- in their company.

“I would say the Philippines would be on that list, on my own personal list that I feel In-N-Out would do well in,” he said.

“I will tell them that it was extremely busy [here]…But I don’t know if I’d put my neck on the line and tell them [to set up shop here]. Because if it doesn’t do well, then [they might blame me for it],” he added, laughing.

Nakao then went on to praise the Philippines for its vibrant food culture.

“I think there are a few countries that are really food countries. And I think here, the culture is really, like food-based. Everybody loves to eat, I mean, talking to the chefs, it’s crazy how diverse everything is here,” he said.

“The food here is fantastic. You can walk down the street and you can get everything you want. There’s not a lot of countries like that,” he ended.