How The Great White Hut competes for customers after 70 years
It is no small thing for a restaurant to remain relevant these days. Los Angeles is a glutton for culinary concepts, from DayGlo-vibrant hot chicken sandwiches to a valiant Valley food truck with a terrible name that happens to serve some of the county’s best Israeli food. More often than not, it is the older joints that just get left behind. So how do you stay top of mind in the age of openings and Instagram? Adapt and learn.
That’s the business model being undertaken by The Great White Hut in Glendale. The corner walk-up stand has for decades existed as exactly what it was forever intended to be: a place to grab a stool, order a burger, and move on. These kinds of places still operate all over the city, like Marty’s Hamburger Stand on Pico or Bill’s in Van Nuys. They are legendary, and speak to a dynamic and changing mid-century when cars and highways were forcing neighborhoods and commuters to rethink their daily meals.
Many, though, are gone completely, a product of wear and tear, of redevelopment, and of updated dining trends in Los Angeles and beyond. That’s particularly true in Glendale, where much of the Jewel City’s core has been reconstituted as mixed-use developments and condominiums. The Americana at Brand is its own kind of funnel, attracting bodies and eyeballs and loads of new tenants like Shake Shack and Din Tai Fung, while some other Glendale institutions like Billy’s Deli and Jax Bar & Grill have disappeared from the map.
Just a few big blocks away from the Americana is The Great White Hut. It is practically engulfed by new developments in any given direction, yet remains close — almost perilously close — to the intersection that has given the business life since 1947. You can still almost reach out and touch the napkin dispenser with one hand and the crosswalk signal with the other if you’ve got the reach, and you can still pony up a few bucks for a burger and a spot on a stool.
Lots of other things are different about The Great White Hut, though. There’s the fire engine red paint job and slick new signage advertising their 70 year anniversary this year. They’ve got a clean, modern website too, and offer delivery from every Door Dash and Eat 24 in town. And then they have this: an Instagram account, plowed through with the same sort of oversaturated, high-contrast photos you would expect from a millenial grub site like Foodbeast, not a septuagenarian burger stand with under a dozen seats.
But that’s the point. The Great White Hut is leaning into a new kind of food culture, one where unicorn frappuccinos earn literal billions of online social media impressions, simply because they’re colorful. There are entire media enterprises and celebrities built on showing off insane neon foodstuffs, packed into weird kitschy shapes and marketed to people under 35. It’s far from the only way a restaurant can stay relevant these days — you don’t see Bestia going out of their way to blow out images of the pizzas or throw them in the air for likes — but when you’re competing at a narrow price point in a community overrun with new concepts and old sit-down standbys, anything helps.
Now, whether full-saturation Instagram photos themselves are a response to changing younger food palates, or the other way around, is a little chicken-or-the-egg. But it matters, at a local level, for individual restaurants like The Great White Hut that are trying to survive. What started as mostly burgers and fries has grown over the years (like many Los Angeles stands) to include Mexican-American food favorites and, even more recently, carne asada fries and California burritos.
And now the latest venture by the younger generation of owners that took over the Hut not long ago: Fritas Fries. Armed with its own cutesy food truck, Fritas is a maximum-exposure catering operation that makes exclusively loaded fries — stuff with an egg on top, or doused in bacon and cheese and Sriracha. The have their own Instagram page too, with boxes of fries pushed close to the camera lens to show off what’s inside. You can even hire them yourself for all your #partylife needs.
Ultimately the diversification is good for The Great White Hut, and a model for others like them to compare to. It’s harder and harder to stand out in a field of social media peacocks, but this enduring Glendale corner legend has found a way. They’re still playing to early crowds who come for the $3 breakfast burritos, and the late night post-bar cliques that roll up before 3 a.m. on weekends.
They still have those stools and that tight little space with too many people packed inside, and they have 70 years of history behind them as they continue to find a way to fit into a community, both large and small, that keeps rapidly changing around them.
So how is the food at The Great White Hut? It’s good in most places, just okay in others. Who doesn’t love a tray of carne asada fries washed in salsa, or a simple roadside hamburger, special sauce and all? But the thing is, for loads of new customers coming to The Great White Hut for the very first time, whether or not the food tastes as it should is beyond the point. Whether it photographs well is not.
The Great White Hut
121 W. California Ave.
“Glendale’s Old Burger Stand Fights for Relevance in the Instagram Age.” Eater LA – All. https://la.eater.com/2017/5/4/15548882/great-white-hut-burger-instagram-photos-feature.