It's been around for more than a century and it's as common and classic an American icon as exists. So why in the world would 1,500 people wait in line for seven hours for a hamburger in one of the largest cities in the world - a city where you can find a Burger King or McDonald's on practically every other corner?
According to the creators of Shake Shack, the answer is simple.
10 years ago, Union Square Hospitality Group, the parent company of Michelin-starred restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, set out to start a casual burger joint.
“In 2004 Shake Shack was born. We built a little kiosk thinking we’d sell hotdogs. We put the 'shackburger' on the menu and the rest is history,” says Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti.
Today, Shake Shack has 46 locations with plans to open more new stores in Austin, Atlanta, and Las Vegas next year. With kiosks from New York City to Dubai, the chain is expanding rapidly.
“We never dreamed or built Shake Shack to have more than one little kiosk. It took us five years to open the second and then we realized we were onto something and continued to grow it,” says Garutti.
Despite the rapid expansion, Shake Shack is still known for its long lines, which can run the length of full city blocks. So what is driving Shake Shack's impressive growth even as fast food chains like McDonald's are struggling more than ever to remain relevant, let alone grow.
Union Square Hospitality group CEO and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer has an explanation, “One of the magical elements of Shake Shack has been... our fine dining background,” he says. “[We use the] same exact beef and chocolate and coffee that we would use at our Michelin-starred restaurants and then offer it at a popular price.”
Call them the kings of fine casual, a movement becoming popular in the fast food world, where people are willing to pay a bit more for high quality food and a little extra ambience. “People want to be proud of where they go to eat and what they put in their bodies,” says Garutti. “In today’s world companies like Chipotle and ours that care enough to source their ingredients responsibly are doing the right thing and I believe that’s the future."
Related: How whiskey got its groove back
In honor of its 10th anniversary, Shake Shack collaborated with top chefs like Momofuku’s David Chang and 11 Madison’s Daniel Humm to make special limited edition burgers and the results were undeniable: lines broke records with some waiting for more than seven hours just to get a taste.
Standing in line that long for a burger may seem absurd to some (okay, most) people, but Danny Meyer has a poetic way of looking at it. “One of the beauties of Shake Shack is that it’s the most democratic business on earth,” he says. “You get in line and whether you’re my daughter or a teacher or an investment banker, it’s all the same for everybody.”
Updated: Shake Shack now has 47 locations after opening their DUMBO, Brooklyn store on Tuesday, June 17th.
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