This city has its fair share of burger chains—as this guide demonstrates—so it takes something special for Washingtonians to line up for half an hour in 90-degree heat. That something special would be Danny Meyer’s New York-based chain Shake Shack, which just opened a location in Penn Quarter. Despite the existence of a nearly identical branch in Dupont, the city happily queued up for Shackburgers and concretes on Tuesday. We caught up with Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti, who’s led the New York-based operation for the past eight years, to learn about local collaborations, future restaurants, and that sweet deal with Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken.
I’ve read about your careful approach to picking locations. What spoke to you about 800 F Street, Northwest?
The crazy irony is we started looking in DC almost four years ago. This site was literally the first [Washington] location we stepped into and said, “I wonder if this could be a Shake Shack.” Then it took us two years after that to find our Dupont Circle location.
Shake Shack becomes this gathering place where every walk of life comes, every income level, every tourist, local, mom, grandma, kid. We felt like this corner represented that as well as anywhere else we could think in DC. So here we are! I’m sitting and watching now, and the line is around the block.
Will the menu always be the same as the Dupont location?
We always want to keep the core menu the same. Last year we launched our SmokeShack, which was our first ever bacon burger, and that obviously launches here, as well. And then we have our concretes that are only available here. It’s kind of a fun play on our location both here in DC and near the Spy Museum.
How did the collaboration between Shake Shack and Astro Doughnuts come about for the Doughnuts Are Forever concrete?
Every Shack we go to, we want to get as local as we can with a couple fun things and still maintain the core of what we’re doing. Our culinary director, Mark Rosati, has been with us since the beginning of Shake Shack, and before that he was a cook at Gramercy Tavern. Whenever we come to a place, Mark goes and seeks out producers. The one he found here was Astro Doughnuts. In New York we work with the Doughnut Plant, and in Philly we work with Federal Donuts.
Are there other partnerships with local producers in the works?
The biggest one we have here in DC—and this is off-menu—is Share Our Strength. They’re our biggest charitable effort, and obviously DC-based, with offices right in Dupont. We just raised $285,000 last month to give to No Kid Hungry through Share Our Strength. We also serve DC Brau beer, and have a couple of things like that, which are fun and more local.
Washington has a large number of burger joints. How do you stand out in the market?
Here’s how we look it: A lot of people might say there’s a burger “trend,” or there are too many burgers. We didn’t invent the burger, and we sure won’t be the last people to create one. It’s just reality. The burger industry in the United States is something like a $70 billion industry, and most of that is McDonald’s and other players like that. Burgers like us, it’s something like 2 percent of that—Five Guys and all the “better burger” places. We think we just have a unique way of going at the community aspect of who we are. We’re not trying to be everyone’s favorite. We just want you to put it in your rotation.
Are you looking at more locations in or outside the city?
I sure hope so. It took us two years to do the first and two years to open here. We’re not a company that descends on a city and tries to open, open, open. So I can tell you definitively that I don’t see anything else happening this year. Our hope is to grow next year and find another great community gathering place where we could make Shake Shack work.