This month, American burger group Shake Shack announced its fifth UK opening: a 96-cover, 2,895 sq ft site in London Victoria's new Nova development, set for 2016. Chief executive Randy Garutti spoke to Hannah Thompson about the slow expansion, chef collaborations, and local ingredients
Why open in the Nova location?
We've never been a company that comes in and blankets the country. We've wanted to open on the Nova site for years; it's everything that we want Shake Shack to be; a cool, community-gathering place. This is obviously one of the busiest coming-together hubs in London, and we also have a lot of respect for our landlord [Land Securities] there.
Do you have ideal customers in mind?
Why would Brits choose Shake Shack over British brands, such as Honest Burger or Patty & Bun?
Those other brands are so good! Everyone's got their own thing. Shake Shack is more of a classic, American roadside burger, just done better. We have beautiful Cumberland sausage, Wiltshire smoked bacon; St John makes our brownies with their gorgeous chocolate. We're for people who want to trade up from fast food, and trade down from higher end dining.
What is it that you look for in a new site? It's about asking if it's a place where that community will gather. And then it's the obvious business stuff - the right amount of traffic, the tenant mix. We're not a luxury brand, but we're not pure fast food. We're right in the middle.
How many would be the dream number of locations in the UK?
We've never set that kind of goal -the dream is, when we open, people love it. If we keep doing that, we'll keep building them, over a long period of time. We could work anywhere in the UK, but it must be grown at the right pace.
How much does it cost to get the doors open?
A lot. We aim to make it feel like the anti-fast-food restaurant. The lighting, the reclaimed wood, the quality of the tables. That's important to us.
Do you change the menu at all for the UK?
The core menu is the same, but we make sure that we use local ingredients. Our beef is also from the UK, and our Shackmeister Ale is made in London. Amazingly, the menu mix percentage of what's sold is nearly identical to the US. People love the ShackBurger and fries everywhere.
How do Brits respond to the "concrete" frozen custard?
In the UK just the words "frozen custard" are funny enough, but we explain that it's actually rich, buttery ice-cream made locally, and people get it. They appreciate that it's not just pulled out of a machine, filled with corn syrup. Concretes are a small part of the menu but a big part of the brand.
You've collaborated with some high-profile chefs, such as Sat Bains and Massimo Bottura. How important is that?
It's the ability to remind people that our company (the Union Square Hospitality Group) is based on 30 years of fine food. We have relationships with some of New York's best chefs, which gives chefs such as Sat Bains a different canvas on which to work his magic. That's our heritage of understanding flavour.
Who are your favourite chefs in the UK?
I've had some great meals at Palomar, Hawksmoor, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Dabbous, the Clove Club - I love the UK food scene.
Any other 2016 plans?
We're working on some fun stuff for 2016. We're always talking to cool chefs!
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