Community Leaders and Burger Giants
By: Michael Kuperman
Live music, ping pong tournaments, and dog-friendly menu items, all on the surface might seem to be what sets Shake Shack apart from their competitors, but it’s actually what goes on behind the scenes that is so unique.
Founded in 2004 by Danny Meyer, what started as just a small hotdog cart in Madison Square Park has grown to a publicly traded company with over 130 locations across the globe. Ultimately beholden to their stockholders, Shake Shack however, does not act like your typical fast food chain. Many have drawn comparisons with the likes of McDonald's or In-N-Out Burger, but selling hamburgers is where those similarities end.
Union Square Hospitality Group, "former" parent company of Shake Shack, owns multiple restaurants, most notably being Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern. Some might think the Michelin-starred Gramercy Tavern and humble hamburger joint Shake Shack bear no resemblance, but that is simply not the case. While the menus might vary vastly, what remains the same is the attitude. When asked how the fine dining world and fast-casual world cross paths, VP of Supply Chain and Menu Innovation Jeff Amoscato simply replied “quality, attention to quality”. Something that is instilled into young line cooks across the world, and something Jeff knows first-hand having started his career as a line cook at the renowned Jean Georges.
With tabletops made from reclaimed bowling alley lanes, produce and meat sourced from local humane farmers and ranchers, use of clean energy, and a commitment to their local communities, the comparisons to McDonald's almost seem unfair. It’s hard to imagine that a restaurant that has locations in South Korea, Russia, and Turkey could uphold such high standards, but it all comes back to that commitment to quality. “It’s been important to us since day one. Going back to our roots, we came from Union Square Hospitality, a fine dining group of restaurants and we always wanted to give the most accurate answer, experience and information to our guests. Whether it’s where fish is coming from on the menu at Gramercy Tavern or beef at Shake Shack”, Jeff said.
Numerous famous fine-dining chefs have made their ways into the fast-casual world in recent years; whether it’s David Chang with Fuku, Rick Bayless with Xoco, or Jose Andres with Beefsteak. Danny Meyer and Shake Shack are arguably doing it the best however. No other restaurant chain has been able to execute on such a large global level while maintaining esteemed ethical standards.
“Working with companies like Niman Ranch, who then work with 700 farmers, helps us in the ability to grow and partner with a company that’s passionate to bring the best standards to farmers” said Jeff. Shake Shack is known for adapting to local environments; using local designers to create a space unique to that of other Shacks, while connecting with local restaurateurs and farmers in the area.
“When I was in Ireland, the thing that stuck out to me is how the grass really is greener than anywhere else I’ve seen. That’s why they grass feed up there and get a different quality than you’d get in US grass-fed; their grass is just different. In Uruguay, another great example, the topography and the environment is just very different, they don’t feed cattle the way we do here because they don’t grow crops the way that we do here” said Jeff.
What makes Shake Shack so unique is that through their global expansion, they have managed to keep intact the same quality of food, as well as ethical standards so dear to them. They don’t want to just be the place you go to for a great hamburger, rather a pillar of the community, a place that supports local businesses and partners with local charities. The desire for quality, in not just their food, but their actions, is why Shake Shack is leading the hamburger renaissance both nationally and abroad.