Today, August 16, the newest Shake Shack opens its doors at 77 Seaport Blvd. amid the countless new luxury condominium buildings springing up in Boston’s fastest developing neighborhood. " is just a number that never crossed any of our minds ever," said Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer, chatting with Eater on the eve of the public opening as the staff prepared for a private opening party. "It’s a number that obviously has happened but not a number we were ever aiming for, and yet here it is."
There was a five-year gap between the opening of the first and second location of the New York City-based chain (2004 and 2009), so the vast amount of expansion has all occurred in just the past seven years — there are now locations in 15 states and Washington, D.C., as well as international outposts in Japan, the Middle East, Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. Here in the Boston area, the first location opened in Chestnut Hill in March 2013, followed by Cambridge’s Harvard Square on the second day of 2014. Dedham’s Legacy Place and Boston’s Newbury Street both followed in early March 2015.
Who are these New York Yankees fans who think they're going to come to Boston?
Shake Shack actually could have touched down in Boston several years earlier than it did, but a bit of rabid Boston press put a damper on potential plans. "The city of Boston came to Shake Shack in Madison Square Park and invited us to come look at something in Boston Common, an old restaurant facility or something," Meyer said. "We took them up on their invitation and came to look at it, and the next thing we read was all this press saying, ‘Who are these New York Yankees fans who think they’re going to come to Boston?’ I tried to tell everybody that I’m actually from St. Louis, and the Red Sox have certainly had their way with my St. Louis Cardinals; that didn’t help. That actually delayed us for about three or four years, because I think there was a sense that we wanted to come to happen to Boston, when what we really wanted to do was happen for Boston."
Even before Shake Shack’s initial almost-foray into the area, Meyer was no stranger to the city; he has family, friends, and hospitality colleagues here. And he and Boston go back much further: At age eight, his parents took him to the now-defunct Anthony’s Pier 4, just a half mile from the brand new Shake Shack. "All I remember are the popovers," he said, adding that the neighborhood didn’t look anything like it does now.
Memories of popovers and Indian pudding
Plus, his older sister went to Harvard, and he remembers that she’d take him to Durgin-Park. "I remember not only the hunk of meat but also the Indian pudding," he said, "which I still would love to see one of our restaurants attempt at some point." Meyer also has fond memories of Hamersley’s Bistro in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as Rialto ("Jody Adams is amazing," he said. "I adore her.")
"I’ve eaten in Chinatown and been very happy," Meyer continued. "I love Eastern Standard — it’s one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. What a great guy Garrett Harker is. I will tell you, he’s one of my inspirations in this entire industry. I love Barbara Lynch’s restaurants; Sportello is one of my favorites. And I just had a fantastic BLT this afternoon at Flour Bakery." Meyer has also been meaning to try Craigie on Main for ages but always seems to find himself in town on Mondays, when it’s closed.
We don't need another burger in any city
His feelings toward the city — toward any city — are an important factor in the decision to expand. "Shake Shack has always looked for cities outside of New York where we love to be," said Meyer. "And cities that care about food. We don't need another burger in any city. Every city we've ever met already has its fair share of burgers, so we want to go to a city that says, ‘Yes, but we don't have Shake Shack.’ That's what we were hearing from Boston."
When asked if anything about Boston locations has surprised Meyer, he mentioned the busyness of the Newbury Street location. "I don’t think we were surprised that Harvard Square would be busy, because you’ve got a student base for much of the year," he said. "I don’t think we were incredibly surprised that Chestnut Hill was so well received; again, you’re near Boston College. You’re also near a fantastic residential area and some great shopping. But Newbury Street was the first time we ever went to a high street in a big city, and the buildings are historic, and it doesn’t look like any other Shake Shack we’ve ever done. We wondered, frankly, if Shake Shack would be welcome. It turns out that it’s surprised us with just how incredibly well-received it’s been."
The new Seaport location has been on Meyer’s mind for "well over two years," he said, crediting Jeremy Sclar, his landlord in Chestnut Hill and Dedham, with talking up the Seaport District to him for years. "Watch this area," Sclar told him. "This is going to be the most exciting new part of Boston."
We don't think there should be a Shake Shack in every single neighborhood
As for the possibility of future Boston-area expansion, Meyer had nothing to report at this time. "We really take each [location] as it comes," he said. "It generally takes us a good year and a half to conceive and gestate a neighborhood and design it and build it and open it, but that’s a good pace for us because we don’t think there should be a Shake Shack in every single neighborhood." (Additionally, Meyer doesn’t anticipate the Boston arrival of any of the full-service restaurants from his Union Square Hospitality Group. "We’ve been pretty conservative about keeping our fine dining restaurants in New York City," he said.)
Each Shake Shack looks a little different, with each location taking various design cues from its neighborhood. "We ask, ‘How can we feel like we’re part of that neighborhood and not something imposed upon that neighborhood?’" said Meyer. One aspect of this is the frequent use of locally sourced building materials; one of Meyer’s favorite examples is the New Haven, Connecticut location, where the walls are made from reclaimed bleacher seats from the original Yale Bowl. In the Seaport location, the walls are made of reclaimed pine and maple factory flooring sourced from Cambridge’s Longleaf Lumber, tables are made of reclaimed wood from bowling alley lanes, and there are several large photographs of Seaport water views.
Each location also has some distinct concretes (frozen custards with mix-ins), and 5% of the proceeds of one of them supports a local non-profit. At Shake Shack Seaport, the charitable concrete is the Seaport Salt & Malt (chocolate custard, salted caramel sauce, Taza dark chocolate chunks, chocolate toffee, malt powder), which supports Courageous Sailing, a sailing center that aims to remove barriers and provide opportunities for the Greater Boston community to get on the water. Shake Shack Seaport’s other unique concrete is the Strawberry CrunchCake — vanilla custard, fresh strawberry, marshmallow sauce, and crumbled sugar cone cookie.
I never thought I'd be sitting here talking about having created a chain
It’s the little differences among all the locations that are part of what makes Shake Shack special. "I never thought I’d be sitting here talking about having created a chain," said Meyer. "That just was not part of my language many years ago." When asked if he considers "chain" to be a dirty word like some do, he said that he thinks he did in the past, but his conversion came about when he accepted that it is a chain, and he could spend his "whole life in self-loathing," or he could shift his perspective.
"Who ever wrote the rule that every link in the chain has to be exactly the same?" he asked himself at the time. "That’s why the way that we wanted to redefine ‘chain’ was to say that yes, it is a chain, in the same way that DNA is a chain. There is a common DNA to every Shake Shack, which we call ‘enlightened hospitality’ and the pursuit of excellence. On the other hand, they’re all a little bit different."
Shake Shack Seaport officially opens at 10:30 a.m. today, August 16, at 77 Seaport Blvd. All locations (except for stadiums and ballparks) are giving out a free single ShackBurger (or burger of equal or lesser value) to the first 100 guests through the doors today; the deal ends at noon. Additionally, the Massachusetts locations are celebrating the 100th opening with a special burger, available through Sunday, August 21: the Coppa Burger ($6.89). It’s a collaboration with Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette (Coppa, Toro, Little Donkey) and features provolone cheese, griddled mortadella, cherry peppers, caramelized onions, mayo, and shredded lettuce on an Angus beef patty.