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5 restaurant mysteries solved this week

Photograph: Shutterstock

Big reveals recently dashed a number of the mysteries that have perplexed inquisitive restaurateurs, long and short term. Why, for instance, was a pile of DiGiorno-brand frozen pizzas stacked inside a Little Caesars? How big does In-N-Out plan to get? And what, pray tell, is the preferred burger of a true Texan?

Here are the answers to those and other puzzles, along with a few clues on the unsolved matter of who’s tougher, the Burger King mascot or a video game star.

It’ll make sense, we promise.

1. Whose pizza, pizza is it?

The internet exploded in recent days with speculation about why a video shot inside a Little Caesars pizzeria clearly shows a shopping cart packed with boxes of DiGiorno-brand frozen pizzas in the store’s pantry area. The central question: Was the restaurant just warming up the frozen pies and selling them as its own pizzas?

No way, Little Caesars told the media. It explained that the unit shown in the customer-shot video is located inside a Kmart in Indiana. The department store sells DiGiorno pizzas in its freezer cases, and the pies shown in the cart had passed their “sell by” expiration date. The employee assigned to throw out the frozen pizza had apparently stopped at the Little Caesars to get a hot, fresh slice for lunch, en route to the garbage can.

2. In-N-Out’s expansion limits

As with seemingly everything, In-N-Out doesn’t follow convention when it comes to expansion. It doesn’t franchise, and it won’t open a unit that’s more than a day’s drive by semi-hauler from one of its warehouses, a rule intended to keep its food fresh. All stores are also reportedly financed from the cash flow of other units, and the lore holds that the company owns the real estate.

Given those restrictions, the 334-unit chain’s growth prospects have always been a matter of speculation. Will it eventually spill into the East and evolve into a national brand? 

No way, Lynsi Snyder, the chain’s 36-year-old president and principal owner, told Forbes last week in a rare interview. The granddaughter of founders Harry and Esther Snyder revealed that Texas is as far east as the chain will go, at least during her lifetime. “Draw a line up and just stick to the left,” she told the magazine.

3. What real Texans eat

One of In-N-Out’s toughest competitors in the Lone Star State is Whataburger, a homegrown favorite with its own cult following. Indeed, it’s the burger that any real Texan eats, according to a new political ad for Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Ted Cruz.  

The tongue-in-cheek spot takes aim at Cruz’s slam of O’Rourke as a “triple-meat Whataburger liberal,” a characterization that left many Texans scratching their heads. 

“What does that even mean, Ted?” asks the star of O’Rourke’s new ads, a Texan in a gimme cap. “Everybody I know in Texas likes Whataburger.”

The spot proceeds to show a news clip of Cruz professing his love of burgers from White Castle, a chain that doesn’t have a unit within 900 miles of Texas, according to the star of the ad. He deadpans that maybe Cruz knows White Castle from his time in Canada—where the politician was born and lived until age 4.

4. What do you call a meat topping for meat?

In true restaurant style, Carl’s Jr. provided a twofer of a mystery resolution this week. It not only solved the matter of what consumers should call meat that’s piled atop the main meat layer of a sandwich—coincidentally, a signature configuration of the chain’s burgers—but also which restaurant chain had the week’s most gimmicky promotion.

First, the meat issue: The chain started a petition on change.org, a site used to push for social and business reforms, to have Merriam-Webster add a listing in its dictionary for “condimeat,” the term Carl’s coined for a meat topping on a meat burger patty. 

The crusade was launched simultaneously with Carl’s rollout of a new limited-time product, a pastrami-topped burger.

The publicity stunt coincided with another petition-driven marketing ploy, a twofer of sorts from the Pei Wei Asian Diner fast-casual chain. Pei Wei said it is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to mandate that restaurant chains disclose all the ingredients used in their dishes. 

At the same time, it’s drafted its own change.org petition, a call by consumers for full disclosure of menu ingredients.

5. The king versus Mario?

Burger King hasn’t revealed whom its wooden-faced mascot will take on when the chain is showcased on Amazon’s Twitch live-streaming network in a few weeks, but the chain is promising they’ll be known video game personalities.  

The mano a mano contests are part of a new delivery-focused promotion that plays off the latest edition of “Call of Duty,” the mega-popular online video game. The effort, a collaboration with DoorDash, starts with the introduction of two limited-time “Call of Duty” delivery meals. The bundled deals are available through the DoorDash app. 

During the four-week promo, Burger King will be given a Twitch Takeover, during which its ads will dominate the streaming network. 

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