Shake Shack Opens in Cambridge, Confirms Boston Next

By Scott Kearnan  |  January 3, 2014

Neither snow nor rain nor freezing cold could keep a Cantabrigian from a burger. At least, not yesterday. 

Though Winthrop Street was blanketed in white and flakes were still falling, the Shake Shack in Harvard Square had a full dining room by noon on its Thursday grand opening. (The spot had a soft open just before Christmas, serving desserts only; this week saw the rollout of its full menu.) But the mix of students, tourists and professionals on lunch break didn't have to trudge as far as one guest: idling at the corner was the delivery truck for Pat LaFrieda, the New Jersey-based meat purveyor that supplies Shake Shack with beef for its famous burgers. 

"That truck is telling you something," says Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti, pointing out the wide wall of windows in the upstairs dining room. "It tells you this meat was ground fresh and brought here last night. And that it's all natural, with no hormones or antibiotics. Cattle raised the right way." That his fast-casual brand gets its beef from the same purveyor that supplies NYC spots like Spotted Pig and Minetta Tavern isn't lost on Garutti. In fact, he says, that's partly why Shake Shack has maintained its cult status and quality even during a decade of significant expansion. (Harvard Square is the 40th outpost for Shake Shack, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.) 

"At the end of the day, I've spent my life in fine dining," says Garutti. Shake Shack is part of restaurateur Danny Meyers' Union Hospitality Group, responsible for Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and The Modern. "What we do is take what we know about fine dining and bring it to the world of burgers." That approach was acknowledged this week by the New York Times, in a piece on 2004 as a watershed year for dining. And Shake Shack has been the biggest brand in a gourmet burger renaissance. "People mostly give us credit for kickstarting that conversation," says the CEO.

Garutti, whose wife is from Boston, says he's been waiting for a long time to bring Shake Shack to our area. So far, so good: the first regional spot, in Chestnut Hill, has exceeded expectations by about 50 percent since opening in March 2013, he says. As for an outpost in Boston proper? A rep for Shake Shack confirms that they are planning to open a location at 236 Newbury Street in late 2014; permit applications to the city have been filed and are awaiting approval.

For now, Shack fans will be happy to make due with the Harvard Square location. The downstairs kitchen serves up familiar favorites and location-specific menu items (check out the slideshow for more details); upstairs, guests will find a cozy, collegiate dining room with gas fireplace; warm walls of reclaimed wood from a former Holyoke, Massachusetts paper mill; and leather lounge chairs in Harvard University crimson. The New England-apropos touches complement the typical rustic-hip Shake Shack look, and reflects the sophistication of a burger world that was long dominated by interstate fast food franchises. "Looking to the future, people aren't going to be more suburban; they're going to be more urban," says Garutti. "We're a brand with a New York mentality and urban style. But as people move into the cities, they're still going to want a burger." 

  • MInT Chocolate

    Shake Shack keeps up its series of location-specific "concretes" (its signature style of frozen custard) at the Harvard Square location. Our favorite is the MInT Chocolate, its name a nod to Massachusetts Institute of Technology: a blend of chocolate custard, minted marshmallow sauce and chocolate truffle cookie dough. Scientifically proven to make lips smack. 

  • Crimson Red-Velvet

    Simple and delicious, this vanilla custard is served with chunks of red-velvet cake from Boston's own South End Buttery. It's a perfect reward on a study break. 

  • Lobstah Shell

    Another localized concrete, also available at the Chestnut Hill location, is this vanilla custard with sweet strawberry purée, ricotta cream and lobster-tail pastry shell from the North End. Feel good: 5% of sales benefit Youth on Fire, a program of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts (which has offices in both Boston and Cambridge), that offers safe and confidential resources for homeless young people.  

  • Fresh-Cut Fries

    You'll see plenty of familiar menu items at the Harvard Square Shake Shack, like the spicy SmokeShack, topped with bacon and chopped cherry peppers. But the Cambridge spot will pair them with Shake Shack's new fresh-cut fries (hand-cut daily, twice-cooked and served skin-on), which have slowly been rolling out across locations. Getting them right was "the hardest thing we've had to do so far," says Garutti. Chestnut Hill's Shack will continue serving the frozen style for now.