After their huge growth from seasonal hot dog cart to 57 locations internationally, Shake Shack is ready to take Chicago. However, the 58th location, opened on November 4, is actually something of a homecoming according to culinary director Mark Rosati.
Shake Shack had its beginnings in an art exhibit to promote the renovation of Madison Square Park in 2000. Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Hospitality Group, and his director of operations (now Shake Shack CEO) Randy Garutti created a hot dog stand serving Chicago-style hot dogs as part of the exhibit, reflecting Meyer's Midwestern roots. Run out of the kitchen of Eleven Madison Park, then a USHG property (it was sold to Daniel Humm and Will Guidara in 2011), the seasonal cart drew long lines for its quality hot dogs and winning hospitality.
Fourteen years later, those same qualities are what has brought Shake Shack so much success, says Rosati. Quality ingredients are still central to the food philosophy. All-natural beef with no hormones or antibiotics makes up their signature burgers. Rosati states that it was their goal to take the most basic burger and make it amazing by using an all-steak blend for their patties. That commitment to natural, wholesome ingredients permeates the rest of Shake Shack’s products as well.
Incorporating local flavors is an exciting and important part of Rosati’s menu direction. The Chicago location has teamed up with a host of Windy City favorites: Publican Quality Meats provides a pork sausage, Vienna Beef is supplying an all-natural hot dog, and Chicago’s signature custard flavors are enhanced by Glazed & Infused and Bang Bang Pie (whose owner Michael Ciapciak is an alum of USHG’s Gramercy Tavern). It gives the menu a distinct neighborhood feel, despite the big name attached to it.
In the end, it is the hospitality, Rosati believes, that really makes Shake Shack stand out among its peers. With all the leaders of the company hailing from fine dining backgrounds, keeping that human touch was a necessary component to their quick-service establishment.
“People look for a good experience,” said Rosati. That means not only the food, but the environment and staff need to be top-notch as well. Shake Shack seeks to build a community where customers linger and personnel remember guests’ names and orders. It is that comfort level that Rosati bets will make Shake Shack a new local favorite.
Doughnut-filled frozen custard certainly doesn’t hurt, either.