The birthplace of California’s drive-through craze has had its fill of fast food restaurants.
Amid complaints of obesity and lines of idled cars stretching into neighborhood streets, this blue-collar town is banning new drive-throughs in hopes of shedding its reputation as a haven for convenient, fatty foods.
It’s an ironic development for a community that proudly claims to have opened California’s first drive-through restaurant more than 60 years ago — a little joint named, appropriately enough, In-N-Out.
“We here in Baldwin Park have taken strides to create a healthy community, and allowing one more drive-through in is not going to meet that goal,” said Baldwin Park city planner Salvador Lopez, who helped craft the ordinance that takes effect Fourth of July weekend.
Lopez estimates the town’s drive-throughs and liquor stores outnumber sit-down restaurants and grocery stores six to one.
And with 90,000 people crammed into 6.5 square miles, this suburb east of Los Angeles is concerned that its 17 drive-throughs are causing traffic jams stretching outside its parking lots.
Still, this being the semiofficial birthplace of the drive-through fast-food movement, not everyone is happy with the ordinance.
“They ought to put in more drive-throughs, not stop them,” said Isaac Colin immediately after ordering burgers and fries for himself and his wife, Christine, at the Baldwin Park In-N-Out.
"It’s a waste of time getting out of your car, finding a parking spot, going in, ordering your food.”
Maybe cities in other states should cut back on drive-throughs, he said, conceding they might cause traffic problems.
“But not here. This is California,” he said.
The restaurant he stopped at is a shrine of sorts to drive-through aficionados, located literally a stone’s throw from where the original In-N-Out, the one believed to be California’s first such eating emporium, was erected in 1948.
“I used to eat at that one, it was right over there,” said another customer, Trinidad Zuniga, as he pointed to Interstate 10, the mammoth freeway that runs from the California coastline to Jacksonville, Fla.
That modest first stand, which had no tables or chairs, was torn down some years ago to make way for the freeway.
And although there is no authoritative record-keeping outfit to say it really was California’s first drive-through chow palace, In-N-Out says it was and that’s good enough for pretty much everyone here.
“Definitely it was the original,” said Mayor Manuel Lozano. “It’s one of our icons.”
Nevertheless, Lopez said, the city needed to cap the drive-through craze that In-N-Out started so many years ago.
The City Council, following the lead of several Canadian municipalities that in recent years have restricted drive-throughs, voted unanimously last month to put a nine-month moratorium on opening any more drive-through restaurants.
That same week, officials opened an outdoor fitness center they say will be dedicated to fighting childhood obesity.
The changes are being welcomed by some residents.
“To be honest, yeah, we have too many drive-throughs,” said Fabian Olguin. He works at the barbershop across the street from the In-N-Out and says he’s seen traffic back up from its drive-through onto neighboring residential streets.
“Sometimes I can’t even get out on the street,” he said, adding when that happens he’ll walk over to get his fast-food fix from the restaurant’s sit-down section.
The ordinance will take effect on a busy holiday weekend when people begin pulling into their local drive-throughs in huge numbers, loading up on things like burgers and fries to take to the beach, said Daniel Conway, a spokesman for the California Restaurant Association.
At this point Conway says his industry group isn’t worried it will start a statewide trend.
Just about the same time Baldwin Park adopted its moratorium, the city of San Juan Capistrano, where In-N-Out has been looking to put a restaurant, moved to ease similar restrictions it put in place several years ago.
“I think,” Conway said with a laugh, “that the drive-through is in Californians’ DNA.”