Shake Shack, an "Incredible, Happy Accident," Celebrates 10 Years With Special Burgers

Categories: Chatting With

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All images courtesy Shake Shack
It's been a decade since Shake Shack (23rd and Madison Avenue) first planted permanently in Madison Square Park, unleashing its burgers and Concretes on an unwitting public and inspiring a frenzy that created a global empire. Next week, it'll celebrate the milestone by turning out a different special burger each day, each of which was made in collaboration with a prolific chef: Daniel Boulud, David Chang, Andrew Zimmern, Daniel Humm, and April Bloomfield.

"We debated a million ways of how to do this, but ultimately, a big fancy party was not us," says Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti. "So we said, 'Let's think about what was happening in 2004.' Daniel Boulud had just done the DB Burger, April Bloomfield had just opened the Spotted Pig -- the burger in fine dining had just been born. If we were to celebrate with the most innovative and influential chefs of the last 10 years who've had some part in helping Shake Shack, what would we do? This collaboration. We're so honored these guys said yes."

Each chef will sell a limited number of his or her burgers for one day only -- get Boulud's on the 9th, Chang's on the 10th, Zimmern's on the 11th, Humm's on the 12th, and Bloomfield's on the 13th. On June 12, Shake Shack's real anniversary, the burger outlet will also host an all-day celebration with live music, ping pong, and free cake from Dominique Ansel sometime in the early evening. So, uh, expect to wait in line a lot next week if you want to partake in all of this festiveness.

The collaboration burgers are $8.50 each, and $1 from each will be donated to the Madison Square Park Conservancy and NYC Parks.

We caught up with Garutti and asked him to reflect on the last ten years of Shake Shack -- and tell us where it goes from here.

Talk to me about the beginning of Shake Shack.
You've gotta go back further than ten years for that. Shake Shack was born in 2001 as a hot dog cart. It was part of the first ever art exhibit that Madison Square Park put on, which was aimed at rejuvenating the park. In 2001, that park was falling a part, and then Madison Square Park Conservancy was created and funded.

The hot dog cart was run out of the kitchen of Eleven Madison Park, and the first day, 50 people lined up. Then 100 people lined up, and all of a sudden we had this craze. We were doing Chicago-style hot dogs, and we did that for a few years. Then, in 2004, we won the RFP to build Shake Shack. We built a little kiosk thinking we'd sell a few hot dogs -- that little shack is 400 square feet. There's no insulation; it's not built to be open in the winter time -- it was just designed to sell some hot dogs. Then we got the idea to add a burger, and then frozen custard. What Shake Shack set out to be was the community gathering place for Madison Square Park and New York -- we had no ambitions beyond that.

So how did that become an international concept?
It took us until the end of 2008 to open the second Shake Shack because the plans were never to open a second anything. We were busy running Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern, and all our other restaurants, which were all unique single-concept restaurants. But we opened a second Shake Shack on the Upper West Side at 77th and Columbus, and that location became busier than the original -- so we thought, maybe we should build another one. We went to Citifield with the Mets and then Miami Beach. We still thought, we're trying this out, so we'll do a few Shacks. Today, we have 46 Shacks.

Our first international restaurant opened in 2011 in Dubai, and it's still one of the busiest. We see the world through that urban lens of New York: The world is a collection of great cities, and we hope that Shake Shack can go to those great cities. We'll grow at an appropriate pace, but there's a lot of opportunity internationally -- and we've done phenomenally well.

What's the Shake Shack legacy?
We look at Shake Shack as an incredible, happy accident -- we hit a moment in history where people said, "I don't eat fast food, but I still want a great burger, fries, and shake sometimes. And when I want that, I want to know it's good." We began to define this revolution in fast casual, or what we call fine casual. It can be quick but still be all natural, with no hormones and no antibiotics in our proteins, no corn syrup in our shakes. We do these culinary collaborations -- we said, "We're going to think about the burger business in ways that people have been unwilling or unable to do. We're going to be the place for the next century of enjoying burgers."

Talk to me about the development of the burger.
We have a 29-year fine dining heritage, and in the beginning of this, we sat down with Pat LaFrieda. This was before Pat was Pat -- he was just a great butcher in West Village. We went back and forth and designed the secret recipe of the Shack Burger. It's the architecture that has made it so popular -- it's a simple, pleasing experience. You get all the flavor, the potato bun, the Shack sauce that has never changed, and a simple slice of American cheese. We've done very little to the menu to change it over the years. We've added different burgers, but we don't have ten different burgers -- we really have two. It's an incredibly focused menu. Everything, starting with the burger, is the purest version of the classic menu item. We took everything fast food ruined and said, "Why does it have to be that way?"

What does the future hold for Shake Shack?
I want Shake Shack to be a really important place that continues to innovate and redefine what we think of as the burger industry. That happens first with the team. President Obama was in a few weeks ago to thank us for taking care of our team because we pay a high wage. We also want to help change the supply chain. The more all natural beef and bacon we can buy, the more ranchers do things the right way. The more sincere hospitality we can build into fine casual, the more other brands will continue to do that to. We want to change what the world has known as a fast food worker. And wherever people want to gather, we want to build a Shake Shack there.

See the full list of collaborative burgers -- and what they look like -- on the next page.

Location Info

Shake Shack

23rd & Madison Ave., New York, NY

Category: Restaurant


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2 comments
Natali Wind
Natali Wind

Shake Shack is just a glorified, overpriced McDonalds.

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