Danny Meyer is finally coming home.
The St. Louis native, one of the country’s most influential restaurateurs, announced on Friday that Shake Shack will open next year at 32 North Euclid Avenue in the Central West End.
“I’m excited,” Meyer told the Post-Dispatch. “I’m blown away by the amount of enthusiasm.”
Shake Shack, which Meyer terms “fine-casual” dining, features hamburgers made from antibiotic-free Angus beef as well as crinkle-cut fries, hot dogs and frozen custard. The first permanent location opened in 2004 in New York City’s Madison Square Park. There are now locations in 11 states and Washington, D.C., and also in the United Kingdom, Japan, the Middle East, Russia and Turkey. The company went public last year.
Meyer has often cited his youth in St. Louis as an inspiration behind Shake Shack. The first location opened in the midst of an effort to beautify Madison Square Park and make it a place where people would want to gather.
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“I started thinking about what kind of food and what kind of experiences I had growing up that made me want to go to a place morning, noon and night,” Meyer said. “They were always centered around parking lots: Fitz’s root-beer stand, Steak ’n Shake, Carl’s Drive In, Crown Candy Kitchen and certainly Ted Drewes.”
Since New York lacks that kind of driving culture, Meyer said he thought: “Why couldn’t we turn a park into the same role a parking lot used to play, a gathering place for people? Which is the antithesis of what fast food became.”
The Central West End Shake Shack will be part of a $31 million mixed-use development from the Koman Group at North Euclid Avenue and West Pine Boulevard.
“I think Euclid has always felt like to me — (and) the Central West End is the part (of St. Louis) that most reminds me of — New York,” Meyer said. “This location, when it came up, was just such a slam dunk.”
Meyer noted the location’s dense foot traffic as one important factor, but it also holds a sentimental appeal.
“I was born a block away,” Meyer said. “My father grew up half a block away. We always visited my grandparents in the St. Regis on Lindell. I was there for some of the happiest moments of my life.”
Meyer is keenly aware that some in St. Louis are wondering what took him so long to open a restaurant in his hometown. In fact, Meyer and his team at Union Square Hospitality Group never meant for Shake Shack to become a chain. Its second location, on New York’s Upper West Side, did not open until five years after the first, and then only to cut down on waits of as long as an hour at the original.
“We thought a second (location) would cannibalize the line of the first,” Meyer said. “Unwittingly, when we opened the second, not only did that one attract a line, but the line at the first one got longer. (We thought,) ‘What if we have the tiger by the tail here?’”
Union Square Hospitality Group, which previously had run only restaurants with single locations, had to learn how to scale up its operations.
“We were learning about distribution and growing a management team, and we were learning to build a culture of enlightened hospitality,” Meyer said. “We only grow as fast as we can grow with leaders who express the hospitality we expect. As proud as we are of our burger, what we’re proudest of is who Shake Shack is as business. That takes time to develop the leaders and the culture.”
That was especially true for St. Louis.
“The last thing I want to do with so many good friends and my mom and professional restaurant colleagues (here) is to bring a diluted version of what Shake Shack should be,” Meyer said. “We never do that anywhere, but especially coming home to St. Louis. We took this very, very seriously.”