Shake Shack has gone Shack-ademic, opening its very first location next to a university — 986 Chapel St., kitty-corner to Yale’s Old Campus. Shake Shack’s Angus beef is 100 percent natural, vegetarian fed and humanely raised without hormones or antibiotics. Shake Shack’s electric use is offset through wind power and Renewable Energy Certificates. Bottles, cardboard and plastics are recycled. Cooking oil is reused to produce clean energy and kitchen food is composted.
Appealing to both town and gown, this roadside burger joint was born from a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park, where people queued up in long-stretching lines.
Shake Shack is part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), which includes several of New York City’s most celebrated restaurants, including Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, The Modern, Cafe 2 and Terrace 5 (located at The Museum of Modern Art), El Verano Taquería and Box Frites (both at Citi Field), Maialino, Untitled at the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as Union Square Events and Hospitality Quotient, a learning business.
We talked to Danny Meyer about his newest venture, the New Haven Shake Shack.
With the New Haven Shake Shack, there will be 17 Shake Shacks in Manhattan and Miami, in Washington D.C. and Westport, CT — just to name a few cities. You even have locations in Dubai, UAE, and Kuwait City. What goes into picking a location for Shake Shack?
In general, with each Shake Shack location we are trying to build upon what we already know works — to be in communities that adore food, that have a reasonably dense population, and a reasonably broad demographic of users at different times, and different types of people. Shake Shack appeals very broadly.
Any other plans besides New Haven and Westport for Connecticut locations?
We are always looking to come up with an opportunity to cluster our restaurants. The Shake Shack in Westport has done very well and the management team there is strong. We wanted to look for another opportunity that was not too close but not too far so the management team would continue to grow and provide new career opportunities.
What else played into your decision to pick the Elm City?
New Haven is about as excited about food as almost any small town I’m aware of anywhere. It’s pretty impressive. What impresses me the most is the focus on seasonality and sustainability throughout the various restaurants. Equally impressive is just the pure hedonism of some of the pizza places. You don’t have to be a modern bistro to care about food in New Haven.
What was your first impression of New Haven?
My first time, I don’t remember. I went to Trinity College in Hartford and I used to see friends in New Haven. I’ve been coming here basically all my adult life! Also, I’m probably the only adult alive looking for reasons to take I-95 from New York to New England; it’s because I get to make a pit stop at Wooster Square.
I have always loved New Haven. It’s a city that’s reasonably small but it’s always revealing itself slowly but surely. You think you know New Haven because you know the pizza places, but then you learn something about Yale, or you learn something about the nightlife, or you hear about an organic farm, or learn about another neighborhood or about a park like East Rock Park. I find it remarkable, because geographically it’s not that large, but there are so many layers to it.
Any other draws to New Haven?
One of our daughters attends Yale. If we had found a similarly exciting opportunity in any of the other Ivy League schools [we might have considered them], but the fact that I have a daughter tipped the scale. Also [our mission is] building on the foundation of what we know and to learn something new. We never located a Shake Shack adjacent to a university. It’s an exciting learning opportunity.
When you think students, you think burgers and fries.
You absolutely do, especially on the price point. Students on a college budget do not go out to the best restaurant in town. We have a product that is qualitatively excellent. We’re also open enough for it to work for students who want a late-night cheeseburger, milkshake or beer for studying or a mid-day quick lunch.
What do you want New Haveners to know about Shake Shack?
It’s a slow-food version of fast food in that we care deeply about traditions, about preserving and champoning the old-style tradition of the roadside burger joint. It’s really about bringing people together as opposed to what fast food did, which was to get people in and out with as many cheap calories as quickly as possible.
How does “community” factor in?
We are already scouring New Haven for local suppliers. We always customize the menu with what’s local. We love to work with local producers.
We are using reclaimed bleacher seats from the original Yale Bowl. We were so incredibly excited when we learned that was possible. We are also using reclaimed bowling alley wood from Brooklyn for our tables.
Your organization is known for its support of hunger relief and its work with civic and charitable organizations. How do you see Shake Shack contributing to the community?
Every Shake Shack in coordination with the community picks one or two different local charities. We are also hiring local. We are looking to host a Yale a cappella group, we want to have people in to do readings.
What’s your favorite thing to eat at Shake Shack?
A double cheeseburger with one slice of onion. It’s not on the menu — I just ask for it. I usually also get cheese fries and a ShackMeister Ale — a beer we have brewed for us by a Brooklyn brewery.
You have described New Haven as undergoing “a thrilling urban Renaissance.” What did you mean by that?
I just think that every time I have visited New Haven, I see more activism on part of New Haven residents and Yale students. There’s more retail, more restaurants, better restaurants. The town feels safe and exciting to me.
Margaret DeMarino is a freelance writer based in New Haven