How Shake Shack Took A Bite Out Of The Burger Biz
ADWEEK|September 17, 2018

How a NYC hot dog cart turned into one of the fastest-growing hipster joints in America.

Robert Klara

Restaurants tend to put a lot of stock in founding stories. And while Shake Shack, the luxe-burger phenom, has a great backstory, it didn’t start with burgers. It didn’t even start with a restaurant.

In 1999, Danny Meyer was already among the most acclaimed culinarians in America. His Union Square Hospitality Group counted Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern among its holdings. Another heralded restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, overlooked Manhattan’s Madison Square Park. That’s where the trouble began.

Once a Gilded Age oasis, the park was a dump, a weedy tract of broken benches only recently cleansed of drug dealers. Meyer, a big proponent of urban parks, co-founded a conservancy to restore the grounds and opened a hot dog cart to help with fundraising. Meyer ran the cart from the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park, which proved a fateful decision. The chance to get artisanal fare in the form of cheap comfort food drew lines—long ones. Sensing a good thing, Meyer traded the cart for a freestanding kiosk in 2004. He called it Shake Shack, his take on a roadside burger stand.

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