Shake Shack filed for an initial public offering on Monday, marking the next phase of a 10-year journey from a single location in a New York City park to a global brand with 63 locations and $US82.5 million in revenue.
Just four years ago, the burger chain had seven locations and $US19.5 million in sales. And it’s already profitable, with a net income of $US5.4 million last year.
Shake Shack is one of 11 restaurant brands in the Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), Danny Meyer’s lauded restaurant group.
Meyer himself is the recipient of accolades like the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurateur of the Year award and Humanitarian of the Year award.
From interviews and profiles over the past few years, we’ve compiled the traits that helped Meyer become known as “the greatest restaurateur New York has ever seen” and to build the Shake Shack empire.
His greatest passion is for the restaurant business.
In a 2011 interview with Business Insider, Meyer said that restaurant owners need to ask themselves the following questions:
- Do you really love providing pleasure for other people? (If you’re a stock broker, your love is for the game, not for the pleasures of others.)
- Do you love the topic of wine, food, and beverage?
- Are you a really competitive person? (Because “someone will nip at your heels within minutes if you’re successful.”)
He is not impulsive.
Meyer founded his first restaurant, Union Square Tavern, in 1985 and then waited nine years until he opened his second, Gramercy Tavern.
He revealed in a New York Times profile that his father overextended his hotel business and ended up bankrupt at age 42. It’s something he says he’s always kept in mind, and why he has his team do extensive research before expanding an existing brand or creating a new one.
He places utmost importance on location.
Meyer has said that he wants each of his restaurants to become part of its surrounding community. He has USHG partner with neighbouring small businesses to reinforce these ties.
It’s why he wrote a Times editorial this summer about what he considers to be the destructive momentum of rising New York City rent prices. He’s currently looking for a new location for Union Square Cafe, which has a lease ending in December 2015. He explains why it’s been a painful process for him:
Like many of the restaurants that opened during the first decades of the city’s rebirth, we have built close relationships with those who came to define our surroundings: greenmarket farmers, publishers, agents, authors, architects, artists, advertising executives, actors, neighbourhood activists, civic leaders and a legion of families who moved into the nearby lofts that once held men’s garment manufacturers. Long before Starbucks popularised the phrase “the third place” — somewhere to interact outside of work and home — it was neighbourhood restaurants that helped to define places like Union Square.
He knows how to reach all kinds of customers.
USHG’s restaurants span burgers to fine dining, but even as the most casual brand, Shake Shack still has an air of sophistication without being snooty that sets it apart from competitors.
Meyer’s newest restaurant, Marta, is a great example of a location that can appeal to a wide variety of people. You can get a $US13 pizza, or you can pay $US50 extra to get that same pizza covered in Italian truffles and order a $US300 bottle of wine for the table.
He is incredibly hands-on.
As USHG’s holdings continue to grow, Meyer is focused on ensuring that its executives don’t become isolated from what’s actually going on inside a restaurant.
He told Crain’s earlier this year that he’s come up with a new system to keep high-level hires from losing touch. After he hired Sabata Sagaria as his company’s chief restaurant officer, he immediately sent Sagaria to spend two months working every job — including busing tables and cooking meals — in each of USHG’s nine full-service restaurants at the time.
“Danny said to me, ‘I want you to understand what makes each restaurant unique and who brings it to life every day — just absorb it,” Sagaria told Crain’s.
He is extremely selective about who he hires.
Even Shake Shack’s management team has a background in fine dining, Meyer told the Times.
He is an exceptional networker.
Meyer told Business Insider that he would have his assistant check lunch reservations at his restaurants for “notable names” so that he could stop by and say hello.
If the Times profile on him is any indication, he knows how to charm the right people. At The Modern, his restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art, he pulled a silk tie out of his jacket, put it on, and headed for a private dining area.
He approached a young man, Romain Collet, of the Jean Collet wine dynasty. Meyer introduced himself, in French, and began detailing the long relationship between his restaurants and the family’s vineyard,” the Times reported.
This article is an update of a story originally written by Vivian Giang and Aimee Groth.
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