It’s an unusually damp January Tuesday, and I’m at my desk working, coincidentally enough, on a local burger-story when word about yesterday’s In-N-Out pop-up at The Bird started filtering through. Instagram picture? Dubious. Phone call from my wife? Not convinced. Broadsheet confirmation? Into the car.
Endorsed by high-profile chefs including Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain, American burger chain In-N-Out is to hamburger fans on the west-coast what Shake Shack is to those in the east. In-N-Out has more than 300 restaurants around America and is famous for the brevity of its menu and its more complex “secret” menu.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for word to spread and the queue to stretch around the block. 218 wrist bands were issued to secure entry to the cash-only pop-up, with a strict one-burger-per-person limit. The allocation was exhausted well before 1pm.
Wait times were respectable. I was outside for about 15 minutes, and those at the back of the queue just an hour. Surprisingly, numbers inside The Bird were kept manageable, and once inside it didn’t feel particularly busy. The staff were in uniform and the counter heavily decorated with In-N-Out finery, but the majority of the venue remained untouched.
I dined with The Bird’s owner Brenton Grove, who had been signed a strict non-disclosure agreement: not even his closest friends had been given the heads-up. Grove told me that once word got out, he was forced to abandon his endlessly ringing phone.
The pop-up wasn’t a money-making exercise. Everything was kept at US prices with the most expensive burger just $5. T-shirts were just $4. American staff were present including brand ambassador Eric who appears at popups in 18 countries each year. Two chefs from The Bird worked alongside In-N-Out cooks in the kitchen.
The order of the day for most diners was the Double-Double “Animal style”: a double-cheeseburger featuring mustard-grilled patties, pickles, grilled onions and extra sauce. The buns, sauces, cheese and potato crisps were imported although the beef and salads were sourced locally.
The highlight for me was the cheese, which was almost sauce-like in its consistency but not quite. The soft bun gave the fillings ample airtime and were quite different from the brioche-style bread we’ve become used to. Taste-wise, it was closer to RoyAl’s than the Shake Shack-inspired offerings of Short Order and Meet & Bun.
This was my first In-N-Out experience, although I’ve had my fair share of Shake Shack. While this was undoubtedly a great burger, it wasn’t the life-changing experience it might have been a few years ago. Us Perth burger fans are lucky enough to have access to some great local specimens.
So what was it all about? According to an In-N-Out spokesperson: “the company wanted to test the market in Perth as part of larger research into the acceptance of the brand and burgers globall should they decide to expand their offerings in the future. There are no plans to open here yet but we were thrilled with the response they received in Perth and overwhelmed by the number of people who came down to try a burger.”
For those that missed out - and chances are most people that heard the news did - the pop-up will apparently be back next year in a different venue:just don’t expect a permanent store.
In happier news: there are whispers that beloved interstate chains Huxtaburger, Royal Stacks and Betty’s Burgers are all in various stages of their west coast expansion plans. Between these new players and existing favourites, there’s much to keep local burger fans busy.