She is her father’s daughter, they say. Drives fast, loves drag-racing, placed and won a few races in her 1970 Plymouth Barracuda and her ‘84 Camaro. She burned through three husbands in her 20s. Also escaped kidnapping attempts, twice. When she was just 28, she became the president of In-N-Out, her family’s company. Three years later, in 2013, Bloomberg estimated the chain’s value at $1.1 billion and called her — Lynsi Snyder — the youngest female billionaire in America.
In-N-Out got its start in 1948, when Harry and Esther Snyder opened the first one in Baldwin Park, in the cradle of the San Gabriel Valley. Not the first burger stand to come out of southern California, but the best. They had 18 locations in 1976 when Harry died and his son, Rich, just 24 at the time, took over. By 1993, that number was 93. Then, Rich died in a plane crash and his brother Harry Guy Snyder eventually took over, running the company alongside Esther. Guy was sandy-haired and a little bit wild. Once, in the mid-1970s, he accelerated into a sand dune and ended up in the trough on the wrong end of his motorbike outside Glamis, California, in the desert scrub near Mexico. Guy never really recovered from the crash — got hooked on his pain medicine, then harder stuff, then pinballed between sobriety and depression. In 1999, he died of a Vicodin overdose that was ruled accidental. He was 48.
That left Lynsi, Guy’s only child, who grew up 500 miles north of Baldwin Park, up around Redding, California. In 2010, four years after Esther, Lynsi’s grandmother, died, Lynsi took control of the business. She is the sole beneficiary of family trusts that will award her almost all of the company’s stock two years from now, on her 35th birthday. She has said she has no intention of taking the business public.
On her arm, in Aramaic, she has a tattoo of Matthew 6:10. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Another, the Hebrew characters that mean “hated.” It is, she has said, in reference to John 15:18: “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before.” They are both reminders, she’s said.
I wanted to meet Lynsi Snyder, this former drag racer turned burger baron, and find out how she went from wild child to head of a business that remains so steadfastly unchanged that it was an actual story when they decided to add sweet tea to the menu (and even then, they only did it because they’d opened in Texas, where sweet tea is something of a requirement). I learned quickly that in order to make a meeting happen, I had to get in touch with Phyllis Cudworth, the marketing coordinator at In-N-Out and the company’s first line of defense. Cudworth gets all kinds of calls to talk to Lynsi. Often, these days, it’s film people asking if they can adapt her story for the big screen — a movie about drugs, cars, a plane crash, and double-doubles, Animal-style, who wouldn’t love that?
But Snyder doesn’t talk to the press. Two puffy profiles have appeared in the Orange Coast magazine and the Orange County Register. There are some old quotes on a drag-racing website. But now: nothing. Those around Lynsi say that privacy, keeping a low-profile, that’s just the In-N-Out way — a family tradition. Snyder herself has said that her privacy is for her family’s safety. It’s those kidnapping attempts. She has said that the first was when she was 17, still in high school. Then, an incident when she was 24 and saw a van with boarded-up windows trailing her; she ran across the highway to get away. Now she won’t say publicly how many children she has.
So Cudworth tells me what she tells everyone: In-N-Out is a “low-key company … we just don’t talk about ourselves, or how great we are.” Still, I persist and tell her I just want to talk to the woman who runs my favorite burger joint, the one I grew up with. Eventually, she agrees to move my pitch along, to people who will decide if it’s in their interest that I be granted an audience with Lynsi. In short order, my request is brushed aside.
It’s not hard to figure out, though, that she lives in the foothills overlooking Baldwin Park, in the tony enclave of Bradbury, in a 16,600-square-foot mansion that was once owned by former Dodger third baseman Adrian Beltré. Bradbury has all the hallmarks of a very wealthy town, and most of the houses are set so far back from the road that you can barely see them; it’s just tall gates and high fences. Still, I drive over there and find a few folks out walking their dogs. When I ask about Snyder, one person is surprised to learn that the woman who runs In-N-Out lives nearby. Another tells me that the family has lived in the area “forever,” but leaves it at that.
I drive to the nearest In-N-Out, down below the hills, near the spot where the very first store opened. I ask the woman who takes my order if Snyder ever comes by. “Oh, sometimes,” she says, “I think.” What’s she like, I wonder. But the woman stops me there. The Snyders are people of humility and faith, she tells me, then requests that I don’t ask any more questions because she could get in trouble. So I order a burger and a shake, and think about a story I heard, a former VP at In-N-Out who alleged that Lynsi tried to fire him because he wasn’t a “man of God,” which led to a confidential settlement and the VP’s resignation. As I pick up my shake, I notice the name of a Bible verse is subtly printed on the inner lip of the bottom of the cup. The chain’s devotees will tell you these are common on In-N-Out’s packaging. Milkshake cups are stamped “Proverbs 3:5,” which reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”