California transplant Ken Vizzini has longed for a piece of home ever since he moved to Colorado in 2008.
"I'm from Southern California, and I have been wanting In-N-Out to open since I got here," said Vizzini, who lives in the Security-Widefield area south of Colorado Springs. "I love their shakes, their fries. And their burgers are the best."
On Friday, he got his wish.
In-N-Out Burger, the uberpopular fast-food chain that announced three years ago it would expand to Colorado, opened its first restaurant in the state Friday morning on Colorado Springs' north side, southeast of InterQuest and Voyager parkways in the Victory Ridge development.
It became the 359th restaurant for the 72-year-old chain and Colorado became its seventh state, along with California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Utah. A second Colorado restaurant also opened in Aurora on Friday, becoming No. 360 for the chain.
To say Vizzini had company in wanting In-N-Out to expand to Colorado would be the Double-Double of all understatements.
Friday's opening in the Springs was greeted by thousands of In-N-Out fanatics, hungry for burgers, cheeseburgers, the signature Double-Double (double meat and double cheese), fries and shakes made with real ice cream. The chain, founded in 1948 in suburban Los Angeles, has some of the fast-food industry's most loyal supporters, who swear by its quality food and customer service.
Under sunny skies, but chilly temperatures, customers stood patiently in long lines that snaked outside the Colorado Springs restaurant. Some who arrived around midmorning spent nearly 90 minutes in line before they could get inside, order and receive their food. Lines got even longer as the morning went on.
Customers were allowed to wait for their food in the restaurant's dining room, but had to eat in their cars or outside in a patio area — warmed by about a dozen propane heaters — because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Drive-thru customers, meanwhile, appeared to have even longer waits. Cars and trucks stretched for more than a mile up and down InterQuest and Voyager parkways and outside the sprawling, 153-acre Victory Ridge development. At one point, about 150 vehicles were in line just on northbound Voyager.
By midafternoon, Gazette news partner KKTV said customers were reporting wait times of four hours.
Denny Warnick, In-N-Out's vice president of operations, said the reception was "beyond our expectations."
"I don't know if we've ever felt more welcome, between all the anticipation and the requests for In-N-Out to come to Colorado and now to see the customers out here this morning just feels great," he said.
In new markets, In-N-Out brings in an "all-star" team of 60 to 70 employees from several states to help get a restaurant up and running, Warnick said. They might be in the Springs for several weeks or even months until they train new employees and the company is satisfied the restaurant is operating up to its standards, he said.
Vizzini, who was first in line at the drive-thru Friday morning, probably had the longest wait of all.
He had an inkling In-N-Out would open this week. About 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Vizzini drove his snazzed-up 2006 Toyota Tacoma pickup — outfitted to resemble the ghost-fighting Ecto-1 from the 1984 movie "Ghostbusters" — and got into In-N-Out's drive-thru lane.
That's where he stayed until Friday morning — eating food he had brought, reading, learning how to use a new iPad, sleeping in the bed of his pickup and taking advantage of nearby portable toilets used by construction crews at the fast-growing Victory Ridge.
Vizzini's patience paid off.
Though In-N-Out said it would open at 10 a.m., it began serving drive-thru customers at 8:45 and Vizzini officially became the chain's first customer served in Colorado.
"I wanted to be able to always say I was the first one through In-N-Out in the state of Colorado," he said.
His order? A cheeseburger, fries and vanilla shake.
"It was good," Vizzini said. "I can see myself being back here very frequently, and maybe even later tonight, depending how long those lines are."
Tyler and Christine Kipp — with their French bulldog Minnie, who sported an In-N-Out doggie T-shirt — got in the drive-thru line about midnight Thursday, sleeping overnight in the back of their Kia Sorento. "IN-N-OUT OR BUST" read the car's back window.
"It's the greatest hamburger you'll ever eat," said Tyler, an ex-Californian. "We're just huge fans. We love it."
In-N-Out's opening in Colorado Springs brought company owner Lynsi Snyder to town, too.
Snyder, the granddaughter of founders Harry and Esther Snyder, hugged employees, prayed with a group of them before the restaurant opened and cut a ceremonial ribbon.
In an interview with The Gazette, Snyder said In-N-Out was attracted by Colorado Springs' beauty and that it wasn't quite as busy as Denver.
"Colorado is one of my favorite states," she said. "I've always loved it because I snowboard, I like whitewater rafting, I like just being out with nature. That's what you see here in Colorado Springs. When we looked at everything and just where we could serve more markets, this was a good spot."
Carl Arena, vice president for real estate, said In-N-Out saw Colorado Springs as a family-oriented community, which matches the company's values. Residents seem warm and friendly, "smiling and speaking to you," he said. That's not always the case in a place like busy Southern California, he said.
"We fell in love with it as a company," Arena said. "We felt we could be part of the family, the community here. It's a wonderful place."
Colorado Springs also was strategically located for In-N-Out.
Arena said he had been coming to the area for nearly four years looking for the right piece of land. In addition to its first restaurant, In-N-Out built a nearly 100,000-square-foot distribution and production facility at Victory Ridge that's a few minutes drive from Interstate 25 and will serve its restaurants statewide.
The company also plans a 150,000-square-foot office building as it makes the Springs its regional headquarters.
"We can go to other states from here," Arena said, adding that New Mexico is a possible new market.
In-N-Out has identified about 10 restaurant sites in Colorado, and likely will have a dozen locations in the state over the next five years, Arena said.
In-N-Out plans a second Colorado Springs restaurant at the First & Main Town Center, east of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue; long term, the Springs probably will have three to four locations, Arena said.