Austinites will no longer need to wait for South by Southwest Interactive to get their coveted Shake Shack fix. The highly anticipated fast-casual roadside burger chain opened its first location in Texas on Tuesday, in the constantly evolving Lamar Union complex on South Lamar.
Though it now has locations all over the world, Shake Shack's humble beginnings date back to 2001, when restaurateur Danny Meyer opened a simple hot dog cart in Manhattan's Madison Square Park."We were trying to revitalize the park and say something fresh about burger stands," says Meyer, who based the concept on the roadside burger stands he recalls from growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. The stand was an immediate success, drawing huge daily lines for the dogs, which were cooked in court-bouillion in the dining room of Meyer's high-end Eleven Madison Park (which he since sold to executive chef Daniel Humm in 2011). Three years later, Shake Shack became a permanent kiosk in the park and now, 11 years later, the Austin shop is the 41st in the country and the 68th in the world.
"Shake Shack was born in a city and it now works in all kinds of places that aren’t cities," says Meyer. "But we always had a love affair with cities and we always said we wanted to be in our favorite cities in the world. Austin has been on our mind and on our list since we first crossed the threshold of saying, 'We are going out of town.' Really, we’ve been talking about this for about five years!"
Meyer and his team — the well-oiled machine that is Union Square Hospitality Group, including Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti — worked with acclaimed designer Michael Hsu to create a space that would pay homage to the Shack's park roots while giving it a decidedly Austin feel. The result is lots of warm wood, wide windows, a mesmerizing living wall patchworked with lichen and Spanish moss, and a network of white aerial planters sprouting with succulents. As per Shake Shack tradition, the tables are crafted from wood reclaimed from an old bowling alley in Brooklyn.
"Our team keeps working harder to make each and every Shack just a mirror of its community," says Garutti. "No two have ever been the same." Besides being visually woven into the community, service and outreach are incorporated into the Shake Shack business plan, with each location contributing a portion of sales to a local charitable organization, as well as volunteering together as a team.
Photo: The Lockhart Link Burger
Shake Shack prides itself in using the finest ingredients, and each location features exclusive offerings using local ingredients. Juicy ShackBurgers are made from 100% all-natural Angus beef, Flat-Top Dogs are also 100% natural, and crispy crinkle fries are made from Yukon potatoes. The Lockhart Link Burger, available only in Austin, features a griddled Kreuz Market jalapeño-cheese sausage link, ShackSauce (a tangy, slightly spicy, mayo-based sauce) and thick pickle slices. Guests can also choose locally brewed libations from Hops and Grain, Real Ale Brewery, Karbach Brewery, Independence Brewery and Austin Eastciders.
Photo: Frozen custards; by Evan Sung
Meyer also pays homage to his hometown with thick, silky frozen custard made with all-natural, hormone-free dairy and real sugar — no corn syrup. Custard can be ordered as a shake, float, cone, cup or as a blended "concrete," dense with mix-ins. Austin is also the only pace to find the Uchi-konkrete, a collaboration between Shake Shack and Uchi/Uchiko made with vanilla custard, miso-hazelnut blondie chunks and huckleberry jam. Four-legged friends are not only allowed on the outdoor patio but welcomed with a treat of their own — the Pooch-ini, which comes with housemade dog biscuits, peanut butter sauce and vanilla custard.