Popular N.Y. burger joint Shake Shack coming to D.C.

By Danielle Douglas
Monday, August 16, 2010

Given the region's apparent affinity for waiting in long lines (ahem ... Georgetown Cupcake), Shake Shack should have no problems once it arrives in the District next year. The New York City institution is known as much for its juicy burgers as its never-ending queues that snake around Madison Square Park, where Shake Shack first debuted in 2001.

But Danny Meyer, owner of the chain restaurant, suspects visitors to the Dupont Circle location, scheduled to open in the first half of 2011, will not encounter the same experience. "The lines move a lot quicker at our newer sites because we've made our kitchen space almost twice the size of the Madison Square Park" location, he said.

Seeing the stretch of customers at the park in the early days of Shake Shack clued Meyer in on its business potential. And what started as a hot dog stand only open during the summer months grew to a permanent food kiosk, eventually branching out to four other locations throughout New York City. In June, Meyer opened the first Shack outside of the Big Apple, with a location in Miami Beach.

The District is home to a wide variety of burger joints, from Five Guys to ... well, the Burger Joint, creating some stiff competition for Shake Shack. "Because we know that Washingtonians are burger aficionados, that made it all the more exciting to bring Shake Shack there," Meyer said. "We just hope to put Shake Shack into their rotation."

Shake Shack is merely one of several restaurant formats under Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes fine-dining concepts, such as Gramercy Tavern, and fast-casual fare, such as barbecue restaurant Blue Smoke. "There hasn't been a huge strategy to diversify, rather it's been an opportunity to provide ways for our employees to pursue their passions," explained Meyer, a 25-year veteran of the restaurant industry.

While he may not have intentionally planned on diversifying his restaurant offerings, it has helped Meyer hedge against revenue declines during the downturn.

"Fine dining in New York City was not easy in 2009," he said. "We felt very fortunate that among our businesses were Shake Shack and Blue Smoke because those two businesses had record years last year, while the other restaurants were flat."

The restaurateur would not provide financials, but said he has seen a "significant" increase in sales across his portfolio this year. The industry is hoping for a rebound in sales this year. The National Restaurant Association forecasts revenue in 2010 to hit $580 billion, up 2.5 percent from 2009.

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