The night of 11 Jan 2012 the 2012 Thunderbird School of Global Management Entrepreneurship Winterim was in for a real treat. A tasty treat. A hot dog treat (and hamburgers, turkey burgers, turkey dogs, AND veggie dogs), with all the fixins that only Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs (http://www.pinkshollywood.com/), an LA local favorite, can serve up. The owners, Gloria and Richard (both UCLA alumni), were kind enough to host twenty Tbirds at their flagship restaurant in Hollywood (709 N. LaBrea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039). In business since the Great Depression (1939 to be exact), Pink’s was founded by Richard’s parents, Paul and Betty Pink. as a hot dog cart in the same location where a quick-service restaurant now stands in Hollywood. Other than the ever-expanding menu, which has countless items designed, ordered, and consumed by celebrities, not much has changed over the years. Pink’s value proposition is still quality and service. According to Gloria, the food creation process is not a cookie cutter process–it is really made to order, giving the customer the ability to customize in many dimensions. There is even a vegan option. As Gloria put it, “we want to have something for everybody.”
As I see it, this is the key difference from competitor, and local LA fast-food restaurant, In n’ Out (and I have been going to In n’ Out for ages since it is all over the West Coast now, not just in the LA locations where I first experienced it). At In n’ Out, the menu is extremely simple. There are only about 5 things that can be ordered. Of course there is the “secret menu” which allows some small variations to the basic staple items, but not many people know about (or care about) these variations–however it has been a great tool amongst foodies and Los Angelinos to generate a cult following. On the other hand, Pink’s has almost every possible variation right out there in the open, helping to inspire a customer’s customization process. Using the opposite technique, Pink’s has generated buzz and a cult-like following also. And it’s not as if liking both In n’ Out and Pink’s is not possible. They are not mutually exclusive in the Los Angelino’s diet, with many of us enjoying both immensely. Two opposite menu strategies can therefore still generate the same result (awesomeness).
Listening to Gloria and Richard tell stories, by memory, of all the celebrities that have come through, and what they have created (many of their creations have become mainstays on the menu) only helped reinforce the simple concepts of quality and service, that many other eateries just can’t seem to get right. Did you know that Orson Welles ate 18 hot dogs in one sitting (this is all-time record)? It was also fascinating to hear about one of the latest additions, carrying the namesake of Gustavo Dudamel (the youngest-ever conductor of the LA Philharmonic, and Venezuelan native). Pink’s designed this for him in order to spice things up a bit, and incorporate some Latin flair. And Hollywood loves Pink’s too. People even consider waiting in line to be “part of the experience,” only adding to the hype and mystique that Pink’s serves up. Isn’t this every company’s fantasy? Having customers that are happy to wait. Scratch that, who prefer to wait. Gloria and Richard could not have designed it any better themselves (not that they even intended to).
We will be meeting with Gloria and Richard again on Friday to go over more of the business aspects of Pink’s, so stay tuned for more then! Consider this an appetizer.