To most customers of In-N-Out Burger, one drive-thru looks pretty much like all the others.
But not to Sam Vonderheide.
“When you go to 20 a day and 20 the next day, you start to notice things,” he said.
Vonderheide is a teacher in Arroyo Grande, a Central California city near Pismo Beach. He and his children, 13-year-old Emery and 11-year-old Berkeley, just wrapped up a mission to visit every In-N-Out in the country.
The Irvine-based chain currently has 366 locations in seven states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas, Oregon and Colorado.
But Vonderheide said the family has made more than 450 visits to In-N-Out in a series of road trips.
They started in 2020 with the goal of visiting every In-N-Out, which at the time was 358 restaurants. Vonderheide said it was a way of taking a vacation during coronavirus lockdowns.
Their first stop was Lancaster on July 7.
He drove a used Tesla Model S, and had to account for charging locations for the electric car into the itinerary.
The family set up an Instagram page, In-N-Out Road Trip, that built a following. They began to be recognized by staff when they showed up wearing In-N-Out clothes. TV news stations also took notice and sent out reporters.
By the end of the year, they had visited 284 restaurants.
Their latest trip started in early July to tie up loose ends and patronize new In-N-Outs, he said.
Also, their mission expanded. They added In-N-Out warehouses to their itinerary and revisited some restaurants to chat with fans.
In the beginning, the family could visit 20 In-N-Outs a day in California and Texas, sometimes staying only five minutes. But on this trip, they only hit a handful of restaurants a day and spent about a half hour at each one.
They paced themselves on food, sometimes making small orders of drinks for fries instead of full meals.
This year’s trip started in mid-July and included Utah, Colorado, Texas and Arizona.
They wrapped it up Wednesday with a visit to an In-N-Out along the 10 Freeway in Beaumont, where Sam and Emery split a chocolate shake and some fries. Berkeley got his own vanilla shake. They used a Tesla charging station next to the drive-thru lane.
The restaurant is opened last July. The family stopped there last summer but it wasn’t open yet. This time, Sam noticed the building had rounded arches over the covered patio.
His parents grew up in Southern California and were fans of the brand, which planted the seeds for the road trip. He said he prefers early In-N-Outs with two lane drive-thrus but said all locations are gradually being modernized.
Most of the differences in In-N-Outs are subtle, he said. Their Instagram page includes a picture of a “rare” back-lit sign in Austin.
He said Berkeley likes the replica of the original In-N-Out in La Puente, which recreates the way the chain began in 1948 but isn’t a functioning restaurant.
After an hour in Beaumont, the family headed for Riverside’s new In-N-Out, which recently opened this month at 3483 Van Buren Blvd.
Although it was the last restaurant on their list, it is restaurant No. 365 in the chain, Vonderheide said. Restaurant No. 366 opened a few days later in Lakewood, Colorado. They visited it on July 24.
They planned a full meal in Riverside and headed for home, where on Thursday Vonderheide said they would be eating “probably not In-N-Out,” Vonderheide said.
“But if anything we’ve probably grown more fond of In-N-Out through this.”
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