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16 Grilled-to-Order Facts About Shake Shack

What began as a hot dog stand in New York’s Madison Square Park (yes, a hot dog stand) has exploded into a burger empire with locations across the globe. Shake Shack, the brainchild of restaurateur Danny Meyer, has discovered a sweet spot with fast-food-weary customers, and spawned numerous imitators along the way. Here, we take a look at the company’s beginnings, where it’s headed, and whether peanut butter ShackBurgers are really a thing.

1. IT STARTED AS PART OF AN ART INSTALLATION.

Back in summer 2001, an art show called “I  Taxi” took over Madison Square Park. In addition to all sorts of taxi-themed displays, there was a hot dog stand that quickly became a hit for its friendly service and Chicago-style dogs. Little did patrons know, it was actually run by restaurateur Danny Meyer (who headed up the Madison Square Park Conservancy) and staffed by off-season coat-check workers from his upscale restaurants. The operation lost money over the three summers it was in business, but Meyer was encouraged by the turnout. So he asked the Parks Department for a full-time business permit, pledging to donate some of the earnings to the park’s development, and they obliged. In 2004, Shake Shack opened, and notoriously long lines ensued.

2. ITS INSPIRATION IS DISTINCTLY MIDWESTERN.

The St. Louis-raised Meyer had a fondness for the burger joints and frozen custard stands he grew up with—places like Ted Drewes, Steak 'n Shake, and Fitz’s. So when the time came to develop the concept for Shake Shack, he reached back to the crinkle fries and chocolate malts of his childhood.

3. MEYER DREW UP THE MENU IN LESS THAN 10 MINUTES.

In an interview with Bon Appetit, Meyer said he wrote down the original Shake Shack menu on a napkin in exactly nine minutes. And it proved to be eerily on-target, outlining many of today’s Shake Shack standards. The current CEO, Randy Garruti, has the menu framed in his office.

4. THEY OFFER CONCRETES CUSTOMIZED BY LOCATION.

Florida locations feature concretes made with key lime tarts from Palm Beach’s Sugar Monkey bakery, while Philadelphia Shake Shacks offer one made with strawberry puree, lemon ricotta, and crushed up cannoli shells from Termini Brothers bakery. At the company’s Baltimore location, there’s a custard concrete made using blueberry pancake pie from local baker Dangerously Delicious.

5. IT TOOK THEM EIGHT YEARS TO ADD BACON.

This would seem like a no-brainer, but Shake Shack, which relies on a meticulous culinary development manager named Mark Rosati to approve new additions, isn’t afraid to take its time. Nowadays, you can get a SmokeShack, or add bacon to any burger.

6. THEY’RE VERY PICKY ABOUT THEIR HAMBURGER MEAT.

It’s a custom blend of brisket, chuck, skirt steak and short rib made for the company by Pat LaFrieda. Only a few executives know the exact recipe. According to LaFrieda, back in its early days Shake Shack sampled 20 different ground beef combinations before selecting the one they currently use.

7. THEY SERVE BREAKFAST, BUT ONLY AT FOUR LOCATIONS.

That would be the two locations inside New York's JFK Airport’s Terminal 4, the Shake Shack inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and Washington D.C.’s Union Station location. The menu is small, but who doesn't want a breakfast sandwich to help them power through that red-eye?

8. THEY'VE HAD SOME DELICIOUS SOUNDING MENU FLOPS.

Like the heirloom tomato custard, or the float made with chocolate custard and stout. There was also a jalapeno and cheddar sausage, which was apparently delightful but had the unfortunate side effect of squirting hot cheese in your face. Whatever: worth it.

9. YOU CAN ORDER A PEANUT BUTTER BACON SHACKBURGER.

The gooey, meaty concoction ran as a menu item for a short time back in 2010. Apparently it flopped, and Meyer has said there’s no chance of bringing it back (“I draw the line at peanut butter,” he told Bon Appetit). But menu hackers have discovered it exists as a secret menu item, and uses peanut butter mix-in for the shakes.

10. THEY OFFER CORN DOGS THREE TIMES A YEAR.

They’re all-beef Vienna hot dogs dipped in house-made corn batter and served with sweet relish. And they’re only available on Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day.

11. A SHRIMP PATTY BURGER SPARKED ITS LONGEST LINE EVER.

The line at Shake Shack’s original Madison Square Park location is long most days (you can check ahead using the nifty line cam). But on June 10th of last year, it was egregiously long—so long, in fact, that it wound through the whole park. The reason: A limited-release David Chang “Momofuku Shrimp Stack” burger that married beef and shrimp patties and was topped with Momofuku Hozon sauce. Demand outstripped the supply of 1,000 burgers, and Shake Shack took to Twitter to apologize.

12. THEY’RE HUGE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

Shake Shack has ventured abroad to countries like England, Turkey and Russia. But its most significant international investment has been in the Middle East, with 20 restaurants in states and countries like Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. Locals love the stuff, apparently, but there have been supply issues.

13. MCDONALD’S WANTS TO BE THEM.

The Golden Arches have been in a slump lately, with customers turning to fast-casual competitors. To win back defectors, McDonald’s has started borrowing from Shake Shack’s playbook, offering sirloin burgers and customized burgers topped with applewood smoked bacon, caramelized grilled onions and other ingredients. Seems like a logical step, though it could be an identity crisis for the home of the Big Mac: Apparently those sirloin burgers haven’t done so well.

14. THEY’RE GOING TO CALIFORNIA.

The company began a westward expansion last year when it opened in Las Vegas. Now, it’s headed for California, with an L.A. location set to open in 2016. With so many In-N-Out lovers in sunny Cali, it should prove an interesting test for the east-coast burger shop.

15. AND JAPAN.

Shake Shack’s also heading to the land of the rising sun, with the first of 10 locations scheduled to open next year in Tokyo.

16. THEY WENT PUBLIC THIS YEAR AND ARE WORTH NEARLY $2 BILLION.

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Apparently, there’s still a lot of money to be made in burgers and shakes these days.

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Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
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“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
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Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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Design
The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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