The East Coast-West Coast Burger Battle

The Atlantic Wire
The East Coast-West Coast Burger Battle
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The East Coast-West Coast Burger Battle

One serves free bulk peanuts. The other doesn't. At first glance, you'd be forgiven for thinking that's the biggest difference between the squeaky-clean Five Guys and its eerily similar West Coast competitor, In-N-Out. And maybe that's why the Arlington-based Guys is making such in-roads in a place where heading to an In-N-Out drive-thru is now considered to be a local pastime: Southern California.

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The latest to fire a salvo in this never ending mid-level burger chain war is The Los Angeles Times, who details the story of Jessica Gueghlein, a SoCal native. While Gueghlein had once been presumably extolled the virtues of In-N-Out, now "her affections have strayed. Lately she's been hitting an East Coast upstart aggressively expanding in California — Five Guys Burgers and Fries." This is something akin to heresy in Southern California.

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Here's why: when Five Guys launched its West Coast expansion in 2008, SoCal-based blogs and local newspapers (the O.C. Register and the Los Angeles Times love fanning the flames of this subject) fretted about the impending war between the two beloved, identical seeming burger franchises. Then, in 2010 came shocking news for area fast-foodies: In-N-Out was "ousted" by Guys as Zagat's Best Burger and Five Guys was deemed a worthy competitor to In-N-Out.

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Today, the Times has concluded that Five Guys may eventually overtake In-N-Out--at least in terms of locations. "Five Guys has sold the rights to open 200 more in Southern California alone — nearly double the number operated here by In-N-Out," the newspaper notes before quoting a restaurant analyst who figures "they're going to probably take market share from In-N-Out."

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Interestingly, even though the the paper concedes that Californians "intense" loyalty to In-N-Out may be a difficult habit to break, it points out that the warring chains aren't really trying to compete for the same customers anyway. While In-N-Out is more popular with men aged 18-24 with less than $70,000 in income, Five Guys customers are usually 25-50 years old and take home more than $100,000 in pay, the paper notes. Five Guys, it appears, is actually a more upscale chain than In-N-Out--making the whole "vs." comparison a little disingenuous.

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Sort of: it's still hard to tell the difference between the dueling red-and-white color schemes.

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