California’s In-N-Out sparks latest pandemic culture war


A worker wears a face cover while taking orders from motorists at an In-N-Out Burger restaurant. | Mario Tama / Getty Images

SACRAMENTO – It took defying the pandemic restrictions in the Bay Area for some Californians to admit that In-N-Out is, after all, just a fast food company and not a unifying state identity.

One place’s refusal to impose indoor masks – and its subsequent shutdown by San Francisco health officials last week – sparked a wave of debate over Covid restrictions and the quality of French fries. The issue has turned some Democrats against the beloved Southern California burger chain and once again highlighted the liberal state’s strict approach to the pandemic.

In no time at all, Fisherman’s Wharf In-N-Out was a top topic of conversation at Fox News, who can’t resist a story from San Francisco.

Republicans praised an In-N-Out spokesperson for calling San Francisco’s Covid restrictions “unreasonable” and “invasive” and for refusing to be the “vaccine police.” to business, although Newsom is not responsible for the rule.

“PLEASE come to Florida! Christina Pushaw, press secretary to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – a Republican antithesis of Newsom – begged In-N-Out in a tweet.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) And Conservative commentator Candace Owens posted photos of themselves enjoying a burger from the 370-store chain on Wednesday.

“Thank you for serving the unvaccinated AND the vaccinated. Trade without discrimination. Companies that would have served black people in the days of Jim Crow. God bless those who refuse government “mandates” that demand discrimination, ” Owens said in a Tweet.

In his tweet, Owens also thanked Chick-fil-A, a Christian-owned fast food chain that has been criticized for supporting anti-LGBTQ policies.

In-N-Out has also embraced the Christian beliefs of its owners, but has been less adamant about them than other companies run by religious conservatives. While Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby close on Sundays and talk openly about their religious values, In-N-Out hides small print Bible verse references inside the bottom edge of its soda cups and discreetly on hamburger wrappers and boxes of fries. The restaurant chain is perhaps better known for its Southern California-inspired T-shirts and iconic palm trees than for its conservative past.

Yet the company has already landed in hot water.

In 2018, California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman called for a boycott of the restaurant after the company donated $ 25,000 to the California Republican Party. Since 2015, In-N-Out has donated a total of $ 110,000 to the Republican Party of California, according to state campaign fundraising records.

California’s Democratic leaders, proud of places like San Francisco and Los Angeles for running some of the country’s toughest pandemic rules, turned their backs this week on the state’s iconic burger chain.

“Literally the worst fries,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.

Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said you have to go with the “animal style” topping to make the fries even edible. “Then it’s absolutely not worth the calories. “

In-N-Out isn’t the only beloved California institution whose conservative owners clash with the values ​​of their dedicated clients. Down the street from Fisherman’s Wharf, the San Francisco Giants are primarily owned by Charles Johnson, a billionaire who continues to donate to conservative Republican lawmakers and donated to former President Donald Trump, despite his team of baseball is played in one of the most liberal cities in the country.

The debate also reminds us that coronavirus precautions remain politicized and pose an operational difficulty for some companies.

Brooke Armor Spiegel, spokesperson for the California Business Roundtable, said the organization is encouraging employees and customers to get vaccinated, but businesses need help enforcing the law.

“In that case, a part-time high school student could be on the front lines of what is a very controversial and sadly violent issue in the country, without any training or increased security,” she said.

The California Business Roundtable opposed the idea of ​​a statewide vaccine “passport” program, citing “major liability issues.”

But others were less sympathetic to the burger chain.

“It’s time to deprogram yourself. In-N-Out is zero. Get over it, ”wrote Soleil Ho, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.

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