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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.

Getty

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

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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