“We know of at least five people that have gone to Shake Shack, started chatting online, exchanged numbers, gone on dates, and gotten married,” says Mark Rosati, the burger chain’s culinary director.
San Franciscans can relate, what with our tendency to wait in long lines for otherwise commonly available foodstuffs. But Shake Shack, which began as an offshoot of the three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park, is also notable in that founder Danny Meyer will wait in that very line with his family on a busy summer day, too.
“Danny says it’s the experience of being in the line,” Rosati says.
With 180 locations worldwide, the 14-year-old fast-casual burger joint will arrive in Palo Alto later this fall, with subsequent locations in Larkspur and on the corner of Filbert and Fillmore streets in Cow Hollow opening in 2019. The parent company is hardly Burger King, but with Shake Shacks in London and Dubai, this might sound like S.F. is merely the latest quarry for some cookie-cutter colonizer. Anything but, insists Rosati, who travels the world opening new ones and sussing out culinary local color.
“The last thing I want is for people to be, ‘You don’t know anything about us. You sat in an office in New York and Googled “San Francisco,” and you saw Ghirardelli’s and it’s all you think we do and you put it on the menu,’ ” he says. “Burger culture here in the past couple of years has really changed. There’s a whole thing with patty melts going on now. You have great butchers. On one trip alone, I went to four places to try dry-aged meats and they were all very simple in their creation.”
Above all, Shake Shack’s build is not another In-N-Out copycat — and there’s far more than just burgers on the menu. By way of a hypothetical example of the variety we can expect overall, Rosati adds that if he’s looking around for a jam maker, he’ll source one for Marin and one for Palo Alto. In a slightly more concrete vein, he notes that a Shake Shake on Manhattan’s Upper East Side sells a dessert that pays homage to the bakery that claims to have invented the black-and-white cookie. Another, in Williamsburg, works with molecular gastronomist Wylie Dufresne’s new restaurant concept Du’s Donuts.
Rosati got involved with the company when he happened to meet the chef of Gramercy Tavern, another of Meyer’s restaurants. Peppering him with questions about whether the meat was seasoned before it was cooked or vice versa, he ended up talking himself into a job for which he was “grossly under-qualified” at the time. That may be understatement for comedic effect, but it wasn’t the most orthodox career path.
“I had a math teacher who said, ‘If you guys don’t buckle down and study, you’re going to wind up cooking hamburgers,’ ” he says. “Mr. Johnson was right!”
But the result, as the Bay Area will soon see, is simple: fine-dining burgers served in a fast-casual environment, and with better fries than the home-state favorite.
“We talk about it like it’s brain surgery,” Rosati says. “I’m a purist. I want a cheeseburger with nothing on it, coming off the griddle with the cheese still melting, and it’s the purest expression of perfect hamburger love.
“I think a lot of our other Shacks are going to be jealous,” he adds.