In-N-Out Burger announced over the weekend that it will permanently close its Oakland location on March 15th, making it the first restaurant closure in the company’s over 80-year history. The iconic burger chain cited Oakland’s ongoing issues with crime and public safety as the driving factors behind the difficult business decision.
Years of Rising Crime Finally Take Toll on Popular Burger Joint
The Oakland In-N-Out location on 98th Ave, the only one within city limits, has dealt with heightened crime issues for years according to local reports. However, the recent surge in brazen crimes targeting customers convinced corporate leadership that continuing operations was no longer tenable.
Over the past two years, the restaurant saw armed robberies inside the store, drug use and sales in the bathrooms, and repeated vehicle break-ins in the parking lot. Employees were also frequently harassed walking to their cars after closing shifts according to one 16-year company veteran.
In 2023 alone, Oakland Police Department records show over 130 emergency calls to the In-N-Out location including:
- 35 instances of vandalism
- 25 vehicle break-ins
- 20 disturbance calls
- 15 robberies
- 10 assaults
For In-N-Out, known for safe family-friendly restaurants, these incidents reflected an alarming new normal.
Leadership Explored Security Upgrades, Could Not Find Sustainable Solution
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, In-N-Out Vice President of Operations Chris Perkins said the company pursued multiple avenues to improve safety over the years. This included security guard hires, new surveillance systems, bright exterior lighting, and routine Oakland PD patrols through the parking areas.
“We thought long and hard before making this decision. This store has been part of the Oakland community for nearly 40 years,” said Perkins. “At the end of the day, nothing we tried made the environment safe and welcoming for our customers and associates.”
According to Perkins, hourly security guard hires only provided temporary relief as criminals quickly identified gaps in coverage to target the restaurant. They also balked at the six-figure annual price tag for 24/7 on-site guards. Ultimately, leadership determined even around the clock armed guards could not eliminate the safety concerns.
“You cannot reasonably expect minimum wage employees to intervene in violent crimes-in-progress,” he added. “We have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment.”
Employees Face Layoffs, Public Left With One Less Dining Option
The upcoming closure leaves almost 50 employees out of work. For some, this Oakland In-N-Out location was their first real job.
Area Manager David Wells said the company hopes to transfer as many affected employees as possible to nearby restaurants in Emeryville, San Leandro, and El Cerrito. However, the volume of available positions at those high-performing locations remains unclear.
Additionally, the restaurant’s devoted customer base now loses their closest option for the popular burgers, fries, and shakes. The next closest In-N-Out sites sit over 20 miles away in San Ramon and San Rafael.
Long-time customer Marina Sanchez told reporters she has visited the Oakland In-N-Out at least twice per month for the past 15 years and is “heartbroken” over the closure. However, she sympathizes with the constant crime challenges the restaurant faced.
“I’ve seen drug deals go down in the corner of the parking lot in broad daylight like it was no big deal,” Sanchez remarked. “The last two times my family ate there, two different people walked up to my car as we were leaving asking for money.”
City Leadership Vows Action, Critics Say Promises Ring Hollow
The announcement of In-N-Out’s departure quickly captured the attention of Oakland city leaders over the weekend. Many pledged new efforts to combat the recent spike in headline-grabbing crimes around retail establishments.
Both Mayor Sheng Thao and council member Juan Zamora publicized revamped safety initiatives and policing priorities tailored to commercial areas. Thao also convened an emergency public safety meeting Monday to probe additional solutions.
However, critics note this reactionary stance continues a long-running pattern of inaction from Oakland lawmakers on crime prevention. Some argue the city only invests appropriate resources once a high-profile business (or crime victim) lands on the evening news.
Notable locals on social media also connected the closure to the consequences of Proposition 47 and other California laws that reduced sentences for theft and robbery crimes statewide. Passed in 2014, Prop 47 reclassified many felony property crimes under $950 as misdemeanors not warranting jail time.
As the chart below shows, Oakland has seen significant increases in larceny and robbery rates over the past decade:
|Larceny Theft Rate
(Rate = incidents per 100,000 population)
While direct causation remains difficult to prove, critics believe Bay Area policies like Prop 47 decreased legal deterrents and consequences enabling recent rises.
What Happens Next?
In the short term, the 98th Ave restaurant will operate regular hours until the scheduled March 15th closure. Customers can still visit the location for their final fix of trademark Animal Style burgers and fries.
Looking ahead, the Oakland In-N-Out site will shutter permanently barring an unforeseen change of circumstance. The building redevelopment remains an open question for now.
Some analysts wonder if another restaurant chain or franchise might take over the newly-vacated property. However, ongoing crime issues and costly renovations could scare away prospective buyers.
Ultimately, the In-N-Out departure calls attention to a crossroads for Oakland leadership. Will they pursue genuine action and reforms to stabilize public safety perceptions? Or will they allow another generation of businesses to slowly erode away? Their policy choices in 2023 and beyond will determine which path defines Oakland’s future.
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