Baldwin Park, birthplace of In-N-Out burger, bans drive-thru fast food
In a climate of soaring obesity rates -- 17% of children and nearly 34% of adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- city officials in this 6.5-square-mile suburb east of Los Angeles made a healthy choice for the community, says Salvador Lopez, a Baldwin Park city planner who helped write the ordinance. It took effect over the July 4 weekend, when Americans consumed an epic number of hamburger and hot dogs.
Health concerns weighed heavily in the decision to curb fast-food restaurant growth in Baldwin Park, but officials also took into account complaints from residents about the traffic ills created by long lines of cars waiting to get into the drive-through establishments. There are 17 drive-throughs in the town of 90,000 people.
How do some Angelenos feel about a fast-food restaurant ban in their midst?
"This is California, where it all began, man," says Max Weston, an In-N-Out regular who "never gets out of my car for a burger." He says that cities shouldn't determine where and how restaurant goers fill their bellies. "Staying in my car means as much to me as eating the food."
Then again, Weston is trying to lose a few pounds, so spacing the restaurants farther apart "may not be a bad thing," he added. "I might go less often."
In-N-Out, believed to be the state's first drive-through and the engine that drove the fast-food rage, was built in Baldwin Park in 1948. The original no longer exists, but its replacement is spitting distance away. Fans of that eatery are legion and many wish the chain would expand, not roll back, its presence.
"When I went to the Midwest for college, I pined for those burgers," says Anna Janofsky, who returned to California a year ago and is a regular In-N-Out customer. "It's the only fast food I eat. That restaurant doesn't exist in the Midwest."
Popular though drive-throughs may be, bans such as this one mirror national efforts to curb junk-food consumption, such as yanking soda from school vending machines, banning trans fats, and New York's law requiring that calorie counts be posted next to menu prices. Two years ago, the Los Angeles City Council passed a one-year moratorium barring new fast-food restaurants from opening in South Los Angeles, home to some of the city's lowest-income residents.
Does this presage the end of Southern California's drive-through craze? Not likely. In-N-Out may get the green light from San Juan Capistrano to open a new venue. The town had put the brakes on new such eateries a few years ago. Looks like those in need of a burger-and-fries fix won't have to drive far to find it.