11 Delicious Facts About IHOP

The popular breakfast spot has been serving up extra-sweet pancakes—and other food, too—for over 50 years.


After serving in the army as a young man, Al Lapin Jr. attended film school at USC, which launched a brief stint in television that included producing films on surviving atomic attacks for the Federal Civil Defense Administration. He made a major career switch when he decided to launch Coffee Time, a delivery coffee service in the L.A. area. Although the venture didn’t last long, he took his respect for caffeine with him when he launched the International House of Pancakes in 1958, which instituted a policy of keeping a full pot of coffee on every table.


The IHOP blue roof then & now! #ThrowbackThursday

Posted by IHOP on Thursday, August 29, 2013

After perfecting his pancake recipe in his mother’s kitchen, Lapin and his brother Jerry were ready to open their first International House of Pancakes. For the original location, opened using $25,000, they chose a spot in Toluca Lake in Los Angeles County intentionally close to a Bob's Big Boy with the hopes of catching any customer overflow. And for aesthetics, they took a cue from Howard Johnson’s by adding an orange roof accent.


In 1973, a marketing program introduced the acronym that has all but supplanted the full name.


Starting in 1983, the then-bloated company restructured itself, closing all the unprofitable locations and renovating those that remained. The updates included muting the décor, adding more seating (especially two-tops), and splitting the kitchen in two. All the kitchens were redesigned to feature two identical mini kitchens so that during slow stretches, one of them could be closed to cut down on operating costs.


Part of the early ‘80s plan to revitalize IHOP included expanding the lunch and dinner offerings, which had long been a weak spot for the company. However, to keep costs low, then-CEO Richard K. Herzer dictated that all menu additions would have to be cook-able using only existing kitchen equipment—which didn’t include ovens at any of the locations.


In 2007, IHOP Corp. purchased Applebee's International Inc. for $2.04 billion. At the time, the two brands combined to have more than 3250 restaurants, making IHOP the then-largest full-service restaurant company anywhere in the world.


In 2011, New York City’s East Village got its very own IHOP. Before it even opened, owners were worried about what the city that never sleeps would do in the presence of 24-hour access to pancakes, so they hired a late-night bouncer. But almost immediately after the restaurant opened, neighbors complained that the issue wasn’t rowdy drunks in search of a breakfast fix, it was the bacon smell. Nearby residents reported that they had to move to escape the nauseating scent of perpetual pork fat. Just eight months after it opened, IHOP announced plans to install a $42,000 odor-killing machine known as the "smog-hog."


In at least one instance, IHOP’s pancakes have proven scientifically useful. In 2003, a pair of scientists from Southwest Texas State University and Arizona State University set out to settle once and for all whether or not Kansas is, as the saying goes, “flatter than a pancake.” Using a flapjack from IHOP and a confocal laser microscope, they mapped the topography of a pancake and compared the relative change in elevation to data for Kansas from the U.S. Geological Survey. It turns out, not only is Kansas—and many other states—much flatter than an IHOP pancake, an IHOP pancake isn’t all that flat.

"People just look down at their pancake," one of the scientists said. "They don't look at it carefully. If you were an ant climbing, it would be incredibly difficult to navigate. There are bubbles and ridges, and it usually bulges in the middle. I'm not arguing it's a mountain, but it's not a piece of paper either."


In 2013, IHOP’s menu got a makeover courtesy of an unnamed "expert in menu creative development." The old version, it turned out, had too many words and not enough pizzazz. The company credits color-coding, clearly divided sections, and lots of mouth-watering photos for a 3.6 percent increase in same-store sales in the months following the design update.


IHOP has occasionally come under fire for what some deem as insensitive tweets, but the breakfast brand has been largely finding success with their attempts to reach a younger demographic. Their Twitter adopted the voice of a "teenage hip-hop fan," as Adweek called it, in 2014, earning over 26,000 retweets for such sentiments as "Pancakes on fleek" and "dat stack tho." And in 2015, they updated their logo for the first time in over 20 years to include a smiling face that references emoticons.


Vermont was the final state to add an IHOP location and when they finally did, in 2009, the general manager insisted on special accommodations. In addition to the many artificially-flavored corn syrups characteristic of IHOP offerings (with such flavors as boysenberry and blueberry), Vermont’s restaurant included real maple syrup. For an extra 99 cents, customers can top their International pancakes with the local sweet stuff—making them the only location out of IHOP’s then-1400 restaurants to offer real syrup.  

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas


For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

Harry & David Just Released a Cats-Inspired Gourmet Gift Collection

Harry & David
Harry & David

Year after year, Harry & David proves itself to be the undefeated champion of helping people gain the favor of tough-to-please recipients on their holiday gift lists. From baskets of cheese to buckets of popcorn, there’s a gourmet food—or collection of foods—for pretty much everyone.

This Christmas, the company has partnered with Universal Pictures to release a line of deluxe gifts that all evoke the enchanting, sophisticated style of the upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic musical Cats.

The products don’t come with cat ears, furry bodysuits, or pint-sized action figures of Taylor Swift, Jason Derulo, and the rest of the star-studded cast. Instead, in true Harry & David fashion, the gifts are decorated with tasteful Cats ribbons and subtle touches of black and gold.

The simplest option for anyone with a sweet tooth is the $30 Classic Sweets Box, which includes dark chocolate-covered pretzels, raspberry galettes, dark chocolate truffles, and Harry & David’s signature Moose Munch popcorn. For healthy eaters or fans of fruit in general, there’s a box of Royal Riviera pears, hand-wrapped in gold foil, which you can purchase with (for $70) or without (for $50) a bottle of Pinot Gris. There are also a few larger dessert baskets with a broad assortment of truffles, caramels, popcorn, chocolate-covered cherries, and more mouthwatering confectioneries.

Though you’d be ill-advised to share most of those desserts with your actual cat, they might be able to enjoy the savory meats from the other boxes and baskets—after all, cats can have a little salami. Items include sausage, salami, smoked salmon, pepper jack cheese, sharp white cheddar cheese, garlic-stuffed olives, water crackers, and roasted almonds, among other things.

In summary, the Cats collection is ideal for these demographics: people who like Cats the musical, people who like Cats the movie, people who like gift baskets, people who like gifts, and people who eat food.

You can shop all the options here, and find out everything you need to know about Cats the movie here.

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