Want to try secret dishes before they hit the menu at Shake Shack? On September 18, the company is opening its newest restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village. It’s where you’ll be able to be among the first Americans to try experimental fare like black sesame milk shakes or seafood burgers.
That’s because the restaurant is built on top of a newly created innovation kitchen, where Shake Shack chefs will be free to improvise as they please to create potential new menu items. It’s the first of its kind for Shake Shack, part of a project more than two years in the making that includes the company’s new home offices, which opened on the building’s third floor in April.
“For all these years, our office was literally a hallway in Danny Meyer‘s Union Square Hospitality Group,” says Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti. “Then we got our own floor, then we went public and kept growing from there. Now we’ve kind of grown up. We’re moving out of our parents’ house.”
Inc. stopped by the new headquarters, restaurant, and innovation kitchen earlier this month. Here’s the first public look inside.
Built in an old printing building at 225 Varick Street, the office keeps much of its original architecture. The space, designed in collaboration with architect Michael Hsu, is minimalist, with mostly white walls and natural colors.
The Park, an open area for lounging or collaboration, is meant to pay homage to the first Shake Shack location, in Madison Square Park. Plants and large windows give it an outdoorsy feel. Staff, visitors, and workers from the restaurant below can come hang out in the Park–which is separated from the work stations by a row of offices to minimize noise.
The library or “Shhhhroom,” a pun on the name of Shake Shack’s ‘Shroom Burger, is a place for silent work or reading. The shelves are stocked with cookbooks and novels. Glass doors help keep things quiet.
Garutti’s office separates the Park from the employee work stations. Shake Shack’s headquarters, which is home to 165 people, features an open floor plan. Music plays from the office-wide speaker system throughout the day. “We take work-life balance seriously. Employees can work from home as needed,” says Andrew McCaughan, the company’s VP of design and development. “But at the end of the day, we built the space so that people would want to come to work.”
The kitchen isn’t stocked with burgers–staffers have to go downstairs for that. But there are healthy snacks, and beer on tap.
Employees can use mounted tablets to reserve the offices and breakout rooms. “There’s a tension there with an open office,” McCaughan says. “You’re fostering collaboration, but a lot of people need a quiet place.”
Down at street level, the newest Shake Shack location advertises its status as a test hub. Shake Shack culinary director Mark Rosati says the company expects to try a wide range of menu items, from new types of non-meat patties to veggie-based side dishes to, yes, the Japan-inspired black sesame milk shake that just happens to be founder Danny Meyer’s favorite. “We’ve talked about a Surf ‘n’ Shack–a burger with lobster meat on top,” Rosati says. “We’re going to do so much in here.”
A sign hangs in the Shake Shack home office: The bigger we get, the smaller we have to act. “We have treat each Shake Shack like it’s the only one in the world,” Garutti says. That means not only laser-focused training and quality control, but also incorporating some the local neighborhood’s characteristics, like old-looking brick facades, cafe-style sidewalk seating, and a rainbow pride neon sign.
Customers in the new Shack place their order at kiosks. “This space is a canvas to test and innovate not only on the culinary side,” McCaughan says, “but on the guest experience side as well.” There will still be one register staffed by a human.
The innovation kitchen is directly below the new restaurant. “Until now, we’ve always bootstrapped it,” Garutti says. “All our innovation was done at any Shack where we could find some space. We’d whip up some recipes before they needed the grill for burgers at 11 a.m.” Chefs here have a huge range of fresh ingredients available to them for the sake of experimenting. They can receive feedback instantly: Customers who try a test item upstairs in the restaurant will be asked to share their thoughts via the kiosks or a brief written survey.
The company already flies in new restaurant managers for training every few months. Now that orientation will have a home base: the new leadership center next to the innovation kitchen. It can also host vendors and partners who are in town–and photo shoots of any tasty new items the company decides to add to its menu.
Photography by Chase Daniel, Uhuru Design and Shake Shack
Article by Kevin J. Ryan