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Shake Shack files for IPO

A customer picks up an order at a Shake Shack restaurant in New York. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Burger joint Shake Shack filed for an initial public offering on Monday, a move that the company hopes will help it grow its fleet of restaurants and take a bigger bite out of the booming  fast-casual dining market.

The chain, founded in 2004 by famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, has 63 outposts across the globe and raked in $82 million in revenue in 2013.  The company says in its filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission that it is seeking to raise $100 million, though that figure that could change.

Shake Shack’s announcement comes on the heels of a hot streak for restaurant IPOs.  The Habit Burger Grill, another fast-casual chain, has seen its stock soar nearly 90 percent over its IPO price. Zoe’s Kitchen, a Mediterranean salad and sandwich chain, and El Pollo Loco, a grilled chicken restaurant,  also had strong trading debuts this year.  According to IPO research firm Renaissance Capital, consumer companies–a category that includes restaurants–saw a 30.8 percent average IPO return in 2014.  That’s significantly higher than the returns seen on splashier IPOs in the tech sector, where average return was just 13.5 percent.

Renaissance Capital said that in 2014, four of the five best-performing IPOs in the consumer category were restaurants.

Shake Shack reported in its filing that sales at restaurants open more than two years were up 5.9 percent in 2013, a robust increase that outperforms the growth seen at many rival fast-food restaurants.

Shake Shack said in its filing that it plans to open at least 10 new restaurants in the United States annually for the “foreseeable future.” Over the long-term, the company believes there is appetite for at least 450 of its restaurants in this country.

Shake Shack’s plan for expansion suggests that its leaders believe the tidal wave of interest fast-casual dining is nowhere near cresting.  While old-school fast-food outposts such as McDonald’s and Pizza Hut have lately struggled to attract diners, chains such as Chipotle, Noodles & Co. and Panera Bread have found success by promising customers healthier fare made from more upscale ingredients.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near the end of fast-casual growing faster than other components of the industry,” said Dennis Lombardi, food service strategist for retail consultancy WD Partners.

Indeed, Shake Shack will face no shortage of competition as it vies for diners seeking premium burgers.  Five Guys already has deep market penetration in urban areas, and small chains such as SmashBurger and The Habit have seen explosive growth lately.  Market research firm Technomic reports that burger chains pulled down $72 billion in U.S. sales in 2013.  While burger restaurants overall saw only meager growth of 1.2 percent, fast-casual outposts fared much better, recording growth of 10.4 percent.

Shake Shack has proposed to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “SHAK.”

The business that would become Shake Shack was initially launched as a hot dog cart in a Manhattan Park.  It was an offering that differed sharply from Meyer’s other eateries, which include upscale dining destinations such as Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Maialino.  Soon, the cart gave way to a kiosk. In the SEC filing, the company reveals it considered some “pretty bad” names for it, including Custard’s First Stand, Dog Run and Madison Mixer.  

When the long lines for burgers and shakes showed no signs of abating, Meyer and his partners in Union Square Hospitality Group began opening more locations.  Today, Shake Shack operates almost half of its global stores; the others are licensed.