Take Two for February 5, 2013

In-N-Out heiress Lynsi Torres is America's youngest female billionaire

In-N-Out burger

Flickr/Brian Wallace

An In-N-Out burger restaurant in Yuma, Arizona.

A Double-Double, fries and shake is about as L.A. as it gets. You order that classic combo at any In-N-Out burger and you'll get a fast-food meal that's a favorite of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain. 

Sure, it's small as far as chains go with fewer than 300 location in just five states, but the private Irvine-based company has a devoted following, and it's estimated to be worth more than $1 billion. 

"It is an extreme oddity considering they started in 1948, about the same time as McDonald's, Jack In The Box, Carl's Jr., all of which have gone on to become giant global, multinational corporations," said Bloomberg reporter Seth Lubove, who recently wrote an article about the company's young heiress. "But these guys stuck to the plan laid out by the co-founder Harry Snyder: very slow, very methodical growth, don't sell to outsiders, don't franchise and its allowed them to set their own agenda."

Perhaps one of the most surprising facts about the beloved chain is that the entire empire is owned by one woman.

In-N-Out president and owner Lynsi Torres is a media shy, thrice-married mother of twins who races hot rods in her spare time. At just 30 years old, Torres owns half of the restaurant chain and stands to inherit complete control of the company when she turns 35. She came to inherit the business after a series of tragic deaths befell several members of her family.

"The company was founded by her grandparents Harry and Esther Snyder. When Harry died his second-born son Rich took over. He ran the company and expanded it to 93 units until he died in a plane crash in 1993," said Lubove. "Then the older son Harry Guy Snyder took over, and he ran the company and continued the expansion until he died of a drug overdose at the age of 49 in 1999. Esther was still alive, so she was ostensibly the figurehead who still maintained control of the company. But when she died in 2006, a trust had been set up to bequeath everything to Lynsi."

Though Torres is owner and president, the day-to-day business is managed by a team that has been with the company since almost the beginning. Lubove says this longevity allows In-N-Out to maintain its very defined identity.

"This is a unique corporate culture above and beyond anything else. They've created this cult following, and a lot of it is by only using the freshest ingredients," said Lubove. "They only make the hamburger patties at two facilities, in Baldwin Park and more recently in Dallas, and they'll only expand as far as the trucks will go in one day from either of one of those facilities."

When Torres gains complete ownership in five years, is there a chance she might sell off the company or open it up to franchising or outside interests? Of course, only time will tell, but Lubove has seen it happen before with other family-run companies with a third-generation descendent at the helm.

"Third generations of family-controlled companies is often when these things tend to self-destruct or people within the family want to get rich and so they look for ways to liquidate their holdings," said Lubove. "In her case, it's hard to say, because there isn't the pressure there of other family members who may have divergent interests, may have other spending habits, that may want to figure out a way to cash in on all the money that this thing cranks out."

Until recently, Torres has lived a relatively modest life. However, she just purchased a $17.4 million mansion in Bradbury, Calif. that was once owned by former L.A. Dodger Andre Beltre.


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