The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park in New York City has lines stretching along the park pathway of people waiting to buy burgers, hot dogs, fries, and concretes. When I was in line recently, chatting and enjoying the company and the beautiful New York afternoon, two young women who sounded like foreign tourists asked, “This line. What is it for?” They seemed surprised that New Yorkers would line up for a burger joint.
How did the Shake Shack get started?
This phenomenon began as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001 to support the Madison Square Park Conservancy and their first art installation. It was so successful that they continued to operate for two more years. By 2004, they were given permission to build a permanent kiosk. A portion of the profits are still donated to the Conservancy.
That the Shake Shack would be so successful is not a surprise, as it is operated by Danny Meyer, a known figure in the New York Restaurant business. His group owns restaurants such as Gramercy Tavern, Tabla, and the Blue Smoke & Jazz Standard which are all excellent restaurants. They also own the elegant Eleven Madison Park, which is right on the corner of the park, and was recently listed as one of the 50 best restaurants in the world. I’m sure it is one of the best, at least the meal I had there a few months ago was one of the best I’ve ever had.
What do they serve at the Shake Shack?
Naturally, they serve shakes, made with frozen custard. The wonderful concoction they call a concrete is so thick you can turn it upside and it won’t run out. It is made with three scoops of frozen custard blended at high speed, with many choices of add-ins, and it was the thickest, crunchiest, tastiest frozen treat I have ever had.
The burgers are made with premium hormone-free Black Angus beef, ground fresh daily and formed by hand, with American cheese, green leaf lettuce, plum tomato, and Shack Sauce served on a grilled potato bun. Vegetarians can order the “Shroom Burger, which has a deep fried Portobello mushroom cap with Muenster and cheddar cheese. Is it the best burger I’ve ever eaten? Maybe, maybe not, as I’ve had some pretty good ones, but this one definitely ranks up there with the best.
The Shack started out as a hot dog cart, and they still serve a Chicago style Vienna all beef hot dog called Shack-cago Dog. It is served on a poppy seed bun with mustard, relish, and onion. The Crunchy Fries are made with Yukon Gold potatoes and they have 25% less fat than the usual fries.
The Shack has the usual drinks available, including house wines and beer. This may be a burger stand, but it is run by people who know their food and wine.
Why is there a line, and why should you behave yourself while you are in it?
On a lovely afternoon or evening, there will definitely be a line, as the food and atmosphere are well known. If you just want a drink, or a concrete, or other quick item, you can go to the second window where there is seldom a wait. For one of the frozen custard cones in an ever changing selection of flavors, use the fast line. For a burger, fries, or other items prepared especially for you, there is a full service line. If you want to check to see how long the wait is, just go on their website and check out the Shake Shack camera to see how many people are waiting. This candid camera is a good reason for behaving yourself in line, but it is pretty high up so personal details aren’t clear.
Once you have placed your order, you get a number, so you can go find a table in the patio area, or a bench in the park, to sit and wait until your order number is called. The food is prepared for you, not piled up waiting for fast food service, but it doesn’t take long to get an order ready.
How green is the Shake Shack?
The building fits into the park environment and looks as though it has been there forever. A few years ago I worked for months in this neighborhood, so I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t remember it, until I looked up the year it was built. They are proud of the fact that the building was made of sustainable materials, 100% of the electricity comes from wind power, and they recycle the grease they use into bio diesel.
Will a Shake Shack be coming to your city?
The Shake Shack is so popular that they have opened four more versions in the city, one at Saratoga Springs horse racing venue, and have expanded into Miami. Recently they caused a flurry of anticipation by promising a Shake Shack will open in the DuPont Circle area of Washington, D.C. These new versions are casual restaurants rather than shacks in the park, but the food will be just as good.
Sources: Shake Shack website and personal experience.