Fast-food pioneer who put the Double-Double on In-N-Out menu dies

It is a date that should be known by lovers of messy and meaty cheeseburgers everywhere, and especially in Los Angeles.

On Aug. 1, 1966, In-N-Out Burger updated its menu to include the item that would arguably become its most celebrated offering — the Double-Double.

In-N-Out fans have a pioneering fast-food executive to thank: Robert Lang Sr.

In the early days of In-N-Out, which was founded in Baldwin Park in 1948, some diners took to ordering hamburgers with double the meat and cheese. At some point, they were named Double-Doubles. But it wasn’t until 1966 that Lang, who’d worked for the then-burgeoning chain since the early-1950s, decided to officially put the special burger on the menu at a new location in Azusa.

The Double Double from In-N-Out Burger.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

In-N-Out co-founder Harry Snyder was so taken by the idea that he added the Double-Double to the menu at the company’s five other locations, owner Lynsi Snyder, his granddaughter, wrote in an Instagram post Nov. 30. Of Lang, she said, “He was many special things, and we sure owe him an awful lot.”

Lang died Nov. 28 at 87, according to son Robert Lang Jr. He said his father, who lived in Rancho Cucamonga, had been in good health. The cause was not known.

Lang was born in 1936 in Southern California and grew up in Baldwin Park, the son of a Dutch immigrant father and a German immigrant mother. The family had a namesake dairy near the site that would eventually house In-N-Out’s original drive-in hamburger stand.

While working as a truck driver as a young man, Lang would end his day with a 25-cent burger at In-N-Out, the Orange County Register reported in 2014. He said he always ordered the same thing: “A hamburger with onions. It was my reward.”

Before long, Lang was working at In-N-Out. And at 19, he became co-manager of the In-N-Out in Baldwin Park, making him the youngest manager in the company’s history, Lynsi Snyder wrote on Instagram. Years later, it was a family connection that may have led Lang to put the Double-Double on the Azusa eatery’s menu, his son said.

Lang’s brother-in-law, Jon Peterson, served as the company’s sign painter and would create the menus at the drive-throughs. When it was time to make the menu for the Azusa location, Lang had an idea, his son believes.

“My dad probably told him, ‘Hey, why don’t you put ‘Double-Double’ on the menu?” the younger Lang said.

As for the Double-Double itself, Lang consumed his share of them over the years, but eventually downsized his ambitions. “In his later days he was satisfied with just a cheeseburger,” his son said.

Among his other innovations, Lang came up with the idea to put marketing verbiage on the protective lap mats given to drive-through guests. “In the early days, the mats had a little map of the San Gabriel Valley and had the stores numbered on it,” his son said.

Lang also was tapped by Harry Snyder to create In-N-Out’s first official handbook. To prepare it, his son said, Lang would visit with Snyder, who’d “recite to him how to cook a burger, how to cook fries and so on.”

“He wrote down what Harry told him — it was basically how to run a store,” said Lang’s son.

Over the years, the elder Lang held several positions at In-N-Out — he served as a store manager and division manager — before becoming a so-called “QFC evaluator,” said his son, explaining that the acronym stands for “Quality, Friendliness and Service.”

“He was there forever,” said Christina Snyder Monahan, the widow of Rich Snyder, who took over and grew the chain after his father Harry died in 1976. “Rich loved and trusted him and thought very highly of him. He had the utmost faith and confidence in him. Bob’s values and who he was were integral to what In-N-Out was and became. He really knew the grassroots values of In-N-Out and carried that forth.”

Lang retired from In-N-Out in the 2000s, and spent his time golfing, traveling and sometimes teaching a history course at In-N-Out University. He recently had occasion to revisit his half-century-plus with the company, which is now based in Irvine and has nearly 400 locations, when he attended its 75th anniversary celebration in October.

During the gathering at the the In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, Lang posed for photographs and even signed autographs. “He felt just overjoyed,” his son said. “At first he was probably shocked that people asked him for autographs.”

Lang was a positive example for his son — and provided career inspiration. Robert Lang Jr. joined In-N-Out in 1973 and rose through the ranks over the course of 45 years to become executive vice president of operations before retiring about five years ago.

“I started out peeling onions and taking out the trash, just like my dad,” he said. “I wanted to be like him, to honor the person that he was.”

Lang was married three times. He is survived by wife Lynn Lang; sister Nancy Peterson; children Robert Lang Jr., Mike Lang, Kelly Delizo and Andrea Hernandez; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Times staff writer Stacy Perman contributed to this report.

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