16 Grilled-to-Order Facts About Shake Shack

Scott Olson, Getty Images
Scott Olson, Getty Images

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.

Image of the original Shake Shack location in Madison Square Park
iStock

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. IT GOT ITS NAME FROM THE MOVIE GREASE...

Screencap of Sandy and Danny dancing on the Shake Shack ride from the 1978 movie Grease
Paramount Pictures

Meyer told Fortune he must have come up with the name after watching Grease so many times. In the final scene, Sandy and Danny dance on an amusement park ride called the “Shake Shack” while singing “You’re the One That I Want.”

3. BUT IT WAS ALMOST CALLED "CUSTARD'S FIRST STAND."

Image of restaurateur Danny Meyer smiling proudly in front of computer screens bearing the Shake Shack logo
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Meyer acknowledged in a 2015 interview with the New York Times that the name was “pretty bad.”

4. ITS INSPIRATION IS DISTINCTLY MIDWESTERN.

Image of crinkle cut fries fresh out of the deep fryer
iStock

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.

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

Image of Shake Shack sign
Jim Watson, Getty Images

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.

6. IT OFFERS CONCRETES CUSTOMIZED BY LOCATION.

So this is technically just an image of a scoop of vanilla custard and not a concrete, but I did my best with what I had access to. So admire this plain vanilla scoop in a small bowl.
Monica Schipper, Getty Images

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.

7. IT TOOK THE RESTAURANT EIGHT YEARS TO ADD BACON.

Image of bacon sizzling on a grill
iStock

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.

8. IT'S VERY PICKY ABOUT ITS HAMBURGER MEAT.

Image of a worker shaping raw hamburger patties
iStock

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.

9. IT SERVES BREAKFAST, BUT ONLY AT FIVE LOCATIONS.

Shake Shack location at Grand Central Station in New York City
iStock

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, Washington D.C.’s Union Station location, and, most recently, the original Madison Square Park location. The menu is small, but who doesn't want a breakfast sandwich to help them power through that red-eye?

10. IT'S HAD SOME DELICIOUS SOUNDING MENU FLOPS.

Image of heirloom tomatoes
iStock

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.

11. YOU CAN ORDER A PEANUT BUTTER BACON SHACKBURGER.

Image of peanut butter in a bowl with some whole peanuts artfully tossed around the bowl
iStock

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.

12. IT OFFERS CORN DOGS THREE TIMES A YEAR.

Image of a corn dog sitting atop some crinkle-cut fries
iStock

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.

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

Image of Madison Square Park Shake Shack location at night
iStock

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 2014, 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.

14. IT'S HUGE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

Image of a double stack Shake Shake cheeseburger
iStock

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.

15. IT HAS A SECRET MENU.

Image of root beer floats
iStock

Menu spotlights include a grilled cheese sandwich made with the restaurant’s famous potato buns, a protein-style burger wrapped in lettuce, and a root beer float.

16. IT HAS ITS OWN RUNNING CLUB.

Image of people running
iStock

Shack Track and Field is a free community fitness club located at Shake Shacks across the country. The running club hosts community runs on the second Tuesday of every month, the restaurant’s website says.

The Question that Baffled Britain's High Court: Are Pringles Chips?

iStock/eskaylim
iStock/eskaylim

Are Pringles potato chips? From 2007 to 2009, that question plagued judges at three different levels of the British judiciary, leading to a series of head-scratchingly comical legal proceedings. The stakes, however, were nothing but serious: The ruling put hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.

The question revolved around Britain’s value-added tax, or VAT. According to the 1994 VAT Act, any product that is “wholly, or substantially wholly, made from the potato” was subject to a 17.5 percent tax. In 2007, Britain’s VAT and Duties Tribunal determined that Pringles fell under the tax’s umbrella—and demanded the chipman payeth.

Procter & Gamble, who owned Pringles at the time, vehemently disagreed. They argued that Pringles were only 42 percent potato flour, with the rest mostly a slurry of wheat starch, corn and rice flour, and vegetable oil. The snack food, they said, could not be classified as a potato chip because, unlike a real potato chip, its overall contents and shape were “not found in nature.”

In addition to being unappetizing, this argument was a marked shift from the company's original position. When the snack first hit shelves in the mid-1960s, Pringles were proudly marketed as “potato chips.” (More specifically, as newfangled potato chips.) They did this despite reported complaints from competing chip-makers, who argued that the snack food—which is cooked from a thin, mashed potato-like dough—should be classified differently.

But now that millions of dollars were on the line, Procter & Gamble’s lawyers wholeheartedly embraced Pringles's unique place as a “not-really-a-chip” chip. The VAT and Duties Tribunal, however, didn’t buy it. In a decision that sounds more like a Zen kōan, the tax masters argued that Pringles were chips because they were “made from potato flour in the sense that one cannot say that it is not made from potato flour.”

To that, the British High Court of Justice basically replied: Wow, that's confusing! Now, excuse us, we would like to top it.

The following year, the High Court stepped in and reversed the Tribunal's decision. First, the Court argued that Pringles were more akin to a cake or bread than a chip. (Who, of course, can forget their first birthday Pringle?) Furthermore, the Court declared that a Pringle—which we should emphasize is, in fact, mostly made from potatoes—was not “made from the potato." Their reasoning invoked Greek metaphysics, claiming that Pringles did not possess the required amount of (and this is their word) “potatoness.”

The controversy didn’t end there. In 2009, the case moved up another judicial wrung, this time to Britain’s Supreme Court of Judicature. The lower court's metaphysical arguments about "potatoness" were enough to make Aristotle's brain hurt, the justices moaned. They criticized the previous ruling for its “overelaborate, almost mind-numbing legal analysis” and dubbed the topic at hand a “short practical question calling for a short practical answer.”

Procter & Gamble’s lawyers bore down anyway. They claimed that a product made from “a number of significant ingredients ... cannot be said to be ‘made from’ one of them.” Lord Justice Jacob called this argument hogwash. If that were true, he argued, then “a marmalade made using both oranges and grapefruit would be made of neither—a nonsense conclusion."

After working itself in and out of semantic pretzels, the Court said the easiest solution to Chipgate was to appeal to a hypothetical child: If you asked an 8-year-old to explain what a Pringle was, what would he or she say?

The question of a Pringle’s identity, the Court argued, “would probably be answered in a more relevant and sensible way by a child consumer than by a food scientist or a culinary pedant.”

In other words, a chip is a chip is a chip—Pringles among them. With that, Procter & Gamble had to pay $160 million in taxes.

Though common sense prevailed, it doesn’t always end that way: Around the time of the great Pringle debate, the state of Oklahoma was busy confidently declaring watermelon a vegetable.

What Is Bologna Made Of?

iStock/DebbiSmirnoff
iStock/DebbiSmirnoff

Like hot dogs and SPAM, bologna is often regarded as something of a mystery meat. Regardless of your feelings about this much-maligned cold cut, bologna is a familiar presence in supermarkets, school cafeterias, and maybe even your own fridge. But what exactly is it?

Similar to the a handful of other curious foods, the answer really depends on the deli or manufacturer. The meat can be made from cured beef, chicken, or pork—or some combination of the three. Some varieties are made from premium cuts of meat, while others are made from ground-up organs, trimmings, and other unmentionables. However, products containing the latter are usually labeled as having "byproducts" or "variety meats," and they're (thankfully) hard to find in grocery stores nowadays, according to The Takeout.

The meat is cooked and smoked, and sometimes wrapped in a casing that's made from the gastrointestinal tracts of cows, sheep, or hogs, according to The Journal Times. This is the norm for several varieties of sausage, and it sure beats synthetic casings, which can be made from collagen and sometimes plastic. However, the casings are often removed before the product is sold commercially.

Although it's now one of America's favorite sandwich fillings, the lunch staple was named after the city of Bologna in northern Italy—even though Italians would turn their noses up at the stuff we're sandwiching between two slices of white bread. (And don't forget the processed American cheese!)

Their version of bologna—known as mortadella—has different colored spots on its surface. That's because it contains bits of fat, peppercorns, and sometimes sliced pistachios. In the U.S., on the other hand, the USDA says all cooked sausages (including bologna and hot dogs) must be comminuted, or "reduced to minute particles." In other words, the ingredients are emulsified and churned into a homogenous pink meat paste. As The Huffington Post puts it, "Mortadella is to bologna as fresh, roasted turkey on Thanksgiving is to sliced turkey lunchmeat."

Oscar Mayer, one of the best-known bologna producers, sells one variety made from "mechanically separated" chicken and pork, with a little bit of beef added in. According to the USDA, "Mechanically separated meat is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue."

Aside from the meat, the recipe contains a blend of spices. A few of the most common ones added to bologna include salt, pepper, celery seed, coriander, paprika, and sugar—or, more commonly, corn syrup. And myrtle berry is often the secret ingredient that gives the meat its signature taste.

Although many companies won't reveal their preferred blend of spices, most of the ingredients in bologna are no secret. They're listed on the package, free for all to read. As it turns out, most mass-produced varieties of bologna are a lot less gross than you may think—as long as you're ok with corn syrup-flavored meat batter. Who's hungry?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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