Shake Shack may be one of the younger players in the hamburger business, yet it is already another excellent example of a classic American success story. It started as a humble food stand that would be later known all over the world as a gourmet fast-casual restaurant.
Shake Shack now operates in over 377 locations worldwide. It has attracted a cult-like following and has taken a bite out of the fast-food industry. Here’s the story of Shake Shack’s rise to success.
Although Shake Shake is now known the world over for its burgers and crinkle-cut French fries, it didn’t even offer hamburgers when it started. In 2001, chef Danny Meyer opened a small hot dog cart as part of an effort by the New York City government to revitalize Madison Square Park, which had fallen into neglect and misuse.
The hot dog stand was first set up at an ideal location – near Credit Suisse’s local branch and one block from the famous Flatiron Building.
Soon after the original hot dog stand opened, people began lining up daily, and the lines typically hit their peak during lunchtime. Expanding the restaurant was far from Meyer’s mind at the time. However, when the city needed to add permanent establishments to Madison Square as part of its revitalization efforts and was actively seeking bids for potential projects, Meyer wasted no time and jumped at the oppotunity.
In 2004, Meyer won the bid and soon converted the hot dog cart into a new kiosk-style restaurant in the park. That was the first Shake Shack store. It began to serve gourmet burgers, hot dogs, crinkle-cut French fries, and milkshakes under Meyer’s business, Union Square Hospitality Group, an operator of several famous upscale restaurants in New York City. The kiosk, modeled after a classic roadside burger stand, became an instant hit.
Shake Shack Logo and Branding
Shake Shack resulted from the revitalization of New York City’s Madison Square Park, which was led by the park’s newly established Conservancy. The Madison Square Park Conservancy engaged the design studio Pentagram to rework the organization’s logo for free. When the decision was made to construct a permanent food kiosk in the park, it was assumed that Shake Shack would be a single site, practically a part of the park. Therefore, Pentagram incorporated it to the project and produced a logo and branding for the restaurant at no additional cost.
“It was very accidental,” said lead designer Paula Scher to Fast Company, “because it was developed for a single site at that time. I don’t believe anyone anticipated that this would become a chain.”
Shake Shack went public in 2015 with an IPO in excess of $1.5 billion, yet they did not spend a dime on its logo. To be fair, the restaurant did offer Scher the opportunity to purchase company stock prior to its initial public offering.
Shake Shack was specifically designed as a single store serving customers in New York City. At first, there were no plans to open a chain, but as the original store’s sales kept increasing, the group realized they needed to expand the business. There were people many coming from many parts of the United States, even overseas, just to eat at Shake Shack.
In 2010, Shake Shack opened its first location outside New York City, at the Lincoln Road Mall in South Beach, Florida. It continued expanding in several locations in New York, such as the Theater District in the Upper East Side and the Chelsea neighborhoods, JFK International Airport, and the Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets.
By 2014, Shake Shack had opened more stores across the United States: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
On January 30, 2015, Shake Shack priced its initial public offering (IPO) at $21 per share. The following morning, it began trading at $47 per share under its ticker symbol SHAK. The next April, it reached $72 per share and hit a high of $90 per share in May. In July, the chain temporarily launched a new item, the chicken sandwich, at its Brooklyn branch. In January 2016, Shake Shake introduced chicken sandwiches across its US stores. It continues to expand in the country.
In 2018, Shake Shack began one of its first international operations at the Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore. The following year, it launched its first restaurant on one of Mexico City’s busiest streets. The opening was a massive hit that customers had to line up and wait for about two hours.
Since then, Shake Shack has continued on its American and international expansions. In the first fourth quarter of 2021, Shake Shack’s total revenue grew by almost 29% to $203. 3 million. It was up by 41.5% to $739.9 million for the fiscal year. As of 2021, the company operates in over 377 locations worldwide and employs over 7,000 workers.
What’s on Shake Shack’s menu?
Initially serving hot dogs, Shake Shack is now famous for its gourmet burger, also known as the “ShackBurger,” and crinkle-cut French fries. It still serves hot dogs, as well as milkshakes, frozen custards, beer, and wine.
So, what makes the ShackBurger different or special from the other burgers? It is said that Shake Shack uses a proprietary meat blend, potato buns, and proprietary sauce called the Shack Sauce for its burgers. The ShackBurger is available in single- and double-patty.
Shake Shack customizes its beverage menu in every new location to conform to the local flavors of the city where a new location operates. Some Shake Shack branches offer breakfast items.
Who could ever imagine a humble hot dog cart becoming a multi-billion global gourmet chain? Shake Shack’s modest beginnings tell us that it was able to build a sense of community and a loyal following and has now capitalized on them to serve its mouthwatering burgers, fries, hot dogs, and milkshakes to customers around the world.
View this post on Instagram
The Shake Shack’s Hidden Menu
An increasing trend among prominent restaurants is the development of a hidden menu. Some of them are more secretive than others, but Shake Shack is rumored to have a lengthy list of well-known secret menu items.
Peanut Butter and Bacon ShackBurger is the most popular menu item. However, the restaurant chain withdrew this item off its menu out of concern for peanut allergy cross-contamination. To order it, simply request a normal ShackBurger and peanut butter sauce on the side. Drizzle it on the hamburger, and you’re good to go. The Quad Burger is another well-known hidden item. This consists of four beef patties sandwiched between two buns. You can “quad” any Shake Shack burger by simply requesting four patties. Then unbuckle your belt two notches and dig in.
Other hidden menu options include the Shandy (half beer, half lemonade), the Shack-cago Burger (ShackBurger with all Shack-cago Dog toppings), and the Beer Float.
Shake Shack locations across the country provide menus that vary slightly based on their region. Sometimes it’s simply an opportunity to give something unique or employ a play on words. In Philadelphia, the company serves “Liberty Shell” (vanilla custard, cannoli shell from Termini Bros., strawberry purée, and lemon ricotta). In Boca Raton, it is known as the “DogMiester.”
But sometimes Shake Shack will integrate popular regional delicacies. In Coral Gables, for instance, you can have “Key Lime Pie Oh My” (vanilla custard plus a slice of The Sugar Monkey key lime pie) and “Cookie Cubana.”
There is something classic and ageless about the burger stand. This is only one of the reasons why Shake Shack’s popularity has soared since its inception.