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LOVE SHACK


Often asked to cite my favorite burger, specifically from a multi-unit chain, for me it's Shake. Shack, and it's all. about pedigree.


Ever wonder what Bryce Harper would do in a neighborhood softball game? Or the kind of tree house Frank Lloyd Wright would build for his son? How about Lewis Hamilton in a car pool lane?


Yes, it’s always nice to fantasize about the masters tackling the chores of us mere mortals. Even better is when you can see (or in this case taste) the results for yourself.


Enter Danny Meyer into the world of (relatively) fast food. Fast in this case only in that from counter to first bite is not the event meal of relaxed luxury that you’d find at Danny’s Union Square Café or Gramercy Tavern.


To a degree, Shake Shack is a story about timing. And in the restaurant world, good timing means everything.


Red Lobster’s greatest comp gains correlated with America’s seafood wake-up call, along with shrimp passing tuna like it was treading water as the suddenly most populous fish in America. (There may be no more shrimp in Thailand, but a quick look at the menus of Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Chilis would suggest that we’re not even close to farmed out).

Yet even as McDonalds has a café brand, the pendulum has once again swooped across the restaurant landscape and better burgers are all the rage, led in numbers by cinco amigos, i.e. Five Guys and cult darling In 'N Out.


But the best of the betters is not one of the “heads of state”, a mom and pop, hidden one off or regional favorite like Whataburger or BurgerFi. The fact is, the best burger is specifically designed to be the best burger by those who – when it comes to food for sale – generally bat 1000% right out of the kitchen.


The best burger right now is Danny Meyers’ Shake Shack.


In the same way that if Apple said it was finally introducing a car, when Danny Meyer and company open their first official Shake Shack in 2004, the industry buzz was indeed palpable and for good reason. Aside from Shake Shack's winning physical, emotional and spiritual design, created to deliver on the promise of Joe Pine’s Experience Economy, the star is still what’s on the tray. And in this case, it is, yes, the best-testing, scalable burger on the planet. Smother it in toppings if you will, lick up the Shack Sauce, add extra cheese or too much catsup it will still delight to no end. But fresh toppings aside, one taste of even the Shack’s naked patty on a plate is all you need to acknowledge the quality and culinary artistry of the USHG (Union Square Hospitality Group) that runs the Shack.


According to a New York Times cover story on the Missouri magic man himself, Meyer’s attention to the beef is profound:


The meat comes from Pat LaFrieda, a third-generation butcher who produces a blend of sirloin, chuck and brisket designed by Richard Coraine, former general manager of Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio in San Francisco and now one of Meyer’s partners. As Meyer put it: “There are a zillion variables to a hamburger. What part of the animal went into it. What coarseness. What temperature.” Coraine spent months “tasting and modifying the blend to hit the right chord.”


Sure, there are plenty of reasons to love the Shake Shack model… the focus on interns, the off-the-menu offerings, the dog bowls, allergen information, the imaginative and mouthwatering frozen custards, the beer and wine menu, etc. But the category isn’t called better extras. It’s all about the beef.


I’m sure the folks at USHG want to think of themselves as beyond categorization, lest they be clumped with a deep and getting deeper bench of inferior category players. But consumers who may be unaware of category designations like “fast casual” and “QSR” certainly know how much money they have in their pockets and how many options populate the restaurant map.


Which brings us to the Shack’s value proposition: Just as Papa John’s gets its unfair market share in the form of a significant premium through quality in a category where quality never mattered, there are hordes of new citizens enlisting in Foodie Nation every day: Two Whoppers for three dollars in a dirty restaurant that has a 50% chance of getting your order wrong is far less appealing than a single Shack Burger at twice the price. When the food and experience is this exceptional, the price is always right.


But of course this is about far more than beef for the buck. This is about a psychographic. Apple users. Mini Cooper drivers. In 'N Out like devotion en masse to a brand that is indeed worthy.


Danny Meyers’ now more than 250 Shake Shacks have become USHG’s cash cow. And while the “F” word (franchising) may be far off or in never never land, I say the more Shacks the better. Because if as Danny implies better burgers makes for happier people, then the question is, can the best burgers, burgers this good bring us world peace? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a thought certainly worth chewing on.

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