Kelly and I love Shake Shack. I mean…really, really love Shake Shack. I dream in frozen custard. The fact that it’s right down the street from my house is awesome – minus the expanding waistline effect.
But does Shake Shack love us back? Now that they’ve almost been in Atlanta for a year (their anniversary is at the end of September) where do we stand? Is it true love? Oh, heck yes.
“We love Atlanta. Shake Shack loves Atlanta. We’ve gotten a great response from the Atlanta market. We’re excited about being part of the Buckhead Atlanta scene,” Josh Kalson, the General Manager for the popular burger joint, assured me. And I know he means it, because I grilled…him (burger humor) for nearly an hour about all things Shack.
Here are the CliffsNotes:
Shake Shack is leading the better burger revolution – and judging by the line I often see out the door – this location is a cornerstone in that charge. What do you attribute to this cult following?
We started out as a hot dog cart in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park to support an art instillation. Danny and his team served these amazing dogs, brownies and lemonade. They had lines just for the hot dogs, and that’s when they knew they really had something. But, if you ask Danny and Randy, Shake Shack as it is now wasn’t necessarily the goal.
Shake Shack was built as a nod to Midwestern roadside burger joints in places like St. Louis, where Danny grew up. He wanted to bring that to life, using the cart as inspiration, but with a twist, and eventually that’s how we evolved into what we are now.
Why did you choose Buckhead for your first Shake Shack location?
(Buckhead) is a very exciting area, and this is a very exciting time to be here. Buckhead has been around forever, but this area specifically has a ton of buzz and feels really rejuvenated. OliverMcMillan is a great developer and design firm. They brought really innovative forward thinking to this space – and the guys from New York knew right away it’s a development that we wanted to be part of. Plus, you can’t beat our rooftop patio. It simply can’t be beat.
If you could only order one meal off the menu for the rest of your life what would it be? No cheating with a burger and a dog!
Shack Burger with pickle, add bacon plus a Fair Shake + fudge to give it a mocha flavor. Order of fries and side of cheese sauce. That’s the ultimate order.
(Note: But if it’s your first time Josh recommends the Shack-cago Dog that comes topped with Rick’s Picks Shack Relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, sport pepper, celery salt and mustard. Or you can’t go wrong without a Shack Burger, of course.)
How is this Shack similar to what our friends in New York enjoy?
The beautiful thing about shake shake is that we’re the modern day roadside burger joint. It’s a community gathering spot – and it appeals to everyone. With that said, no Shack is the same as the next. We are the anti-chain chain. All of the furniture – down to the floors – is unique to each location.
This upscale shopping center may not seem like a natural fit for a burger joint with amazing prices? Burgers and Christian Louboutin and a side of Hermès? Do you fit?
All of these brands in here are lifestyle brands. Even though we serve burgers we think of ourselves as a lifestyle brand. We want our employees to feel that, and we want out guests to feel that.
Are southern customers different than your other guests?
The tastes that we care for are a little bit different. We added sweet tea here. This is first location. We also have a unique shake called the Peachtree Shake – and it’s absolutely amazing. But people that come here know what they are getting into and they enjoy that. Danny’s philosophy of how we take care of our guests…that’s why they keep coming back again and again. It’s more about how we make people feel when they are here – and that is something our guests from across the globe enjoy and expect.
If you had to describe the culture of Shake Shack in Buckhead, what would it be?
Our motto is Stand for Something Good – and that extends to more than you might think. We take pride in the quality of our food. We only serve 100% all-natural Angus beef with no hormones and no antibiotics. Our Shack blend is freshly ground everyday. But we’re also really involved in the community. It’s our way to saying, just be great. Be proud of what you stand for.
Tell me more about your community efforts.
Each Shack teams up with a local charity partner, and 5% of one of the frozen custards goes back to that local charity. Every GM gets to pick their own charity. I chose Camp Twin Lakes, a camp for kids with serious illnesses, disabilities and life challenges. I’ve been familiar with them for many many years. Camp for me was a big part of my life, and I think it’s important for everyone to have that opportunity.
We also donate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a couple times a quarter to a shelter down the street called My Sisters House. They offer programs for homeless women and women with children, and offer really important services.We donate anywhere between 200-300 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This community work is the biggest thing to us – and to me. We never want to go into a community and just say “here we are!” We want to embrace the community and be part of it. Make a different – and that makes us different.
You teamed up with Ford Fry on a special, limited-edition burger – so cool! Why do these partnerships?
The main reason we do things like this is to really dig into the community. We stem from fine dining, so it’s also our way to pay homage back to that experience. It’s unique, a lot of restaurants don’t do it, but we want to have fun with different chefs. This is the first collaboration outside of the Northeast. It was a killer burger, absolutely delicious.
What food trends are we going to see this fall? How will those trends show up at the shack?
We’re doing a “Pumpkin Pie Oh My” concrete that starts with our vanilla custard and adds slice of Shack-made pumpkin pie. And our lemonade is changing to cranberry ginger, a fall-ish flavor. We’re also getting involved with Octoberfeat with a really cool beer and brats menu. Cheddar brats, a regular brat and a bavarian brat – all really tasty. We also do a hot chocolate during our fall and winter months at all of our Shacks. It’s our custard base – but instead of cooling it down we heat it up. We think it’s pretty unique – we always intertwine the seasons into our menu.
Favorite restaurants in Atlanta?
It’s tough. I’ve got to include my boy Ford. I love St. Cecilia, it’s an amazing destination. Gunshow is really, really good. I’m going to Bacchanalia pretty soon and I’m sure it’s going to knock me off my feet. I think Inman Park is a great area, and Brookhaven is really up and coming with great restaurants.
True or false, your CEO, Randy, told your team something along the lines of “I want to challenge you to put us out of business” when you first opened?
Ha! Yes, he actually said that here on opening day. Being generous for us is, when you come into my home, I’m going to be as generous with you as possible. Have fun with your guests. Be honest and transparent, but be generous. I can’t tell you how many onesies I’ve given away to new moms. You should see the smiles on the moms faces – it makes it really special. This kind of thing really means something to us. What he is saying is that at Shake Shack it’s about making sure every guest that walks in the door is treated like gold – and that starts with generosity.
As a side note, I asked Josh if he reads blogs, and he admitted that he is more focused on the experience of Shake Shack, and less on the surrounding noise. That’s not to say he doesn’t read reviews to make sure guests are happy, he’s just more focused on doing what they know they need to do everyday: take care of his guests and make sure they are delivering the best food everyday and standing up to Shack standards. But, he did ensure us that he will be reading Peachtree Roadies every day moving forward. Naturally.