By Lisa Baertlein
(Reuters) - Growth-hungry investors are lining up for shares of burger chain Shake Shack Inc <SHAK.N>, whose initial public offering will be priced after the U.S. stock market closes on Thursday.
The IPO market has been particularly fruitful recently for so-called fast-casual restaurant operators such as burger chain Habit Restaurants Inc <HABT.O> and others that hope to replicate the sizzling growth of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc <CMG.N>.
Preliminary demand prompted Shake Shack to raise its expected IPO price to a range of $17 to $19 per share on Wednesday, from between $14 and $16.
If the 5 million shares on offer are priced at the top of the range, Shake Shack would raise $95 million and be valued at about $675 million.
Shake Shack debuts two months after Habit Restaurants, known for its charburgers, floated its shares.
Habit's shares have risen more than 80 percent from their IPO price since their debut on Nov. 20.
Shake Shack, which traces its beginnings to a hot dog cart in a park in New York City, has 63 restaurants, more than half outside the United States.
Customers in Manhattan and Chicago often wait in long lines to get a taste of its rich milkshakes and hormone- and antibiotic-free burgers.
"It's a cult," said Bob Goldin, an executive vice president at consulting firm Technomic.
The chain attracts a relatively affluent clientele, which spends roughly $30 for a meal for two - considerably more than diners spend at struggling fast-food giant McDonald's <MCD.N>.
Shake Shack's challenge, Goldin and other experts said, is not to expand too quickly. Ubiquity, they said, often works against cult chains.
Shake Shack, founded by New York restaurateur Daniel Meyer in 2001, waited five years to open its second restaurant.
The company has said it plans to open 10 U.S., company-operated restaurants each year and could eventually grow to at least 450 locations.
When Chipotle went public in 2006, it had almost 500 U.S. restaurants. The chain is known for its simple, customizable food made from antibiotic-free meats and fresh produce.
Investors love Chipotle's rapid growth. The company, which had about 1,700 U.S. restaurants, is known for cranking out ever-higher unit sales without increasing costs.
While Shake Shack has been slower to add restaurants, its domestic average annual sales of $5 million per location for 2013 were about double Chipotle's.
(Additional reporting by Anil D'Silva in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Ted Kerr)