[Photo: Missy Frederick/Eater.com]
CEO Randy Garutti had his eye on Union Station for five years, and he finally got it. The latest incarnation of Shake Shack opened today in the transportation hub, with lines snaking outside the door of the West Hall location. It's one of the largest Shake Shack locations to date, and the fourth for D.C. (including Nats ballpark). The restaurant stretches over two levels, and will have free wi-fi.
"I love the architecture, the feel of the place, and it's of course a great place to do business," said Garutti. "The kicker is we learned a lot from opening in Grand Central station in New York."
D.C. customers are pretty aware of Shake Shack at this point, but Union Station will give the company a chance to introduce the brand to national and international travelers, Garutti said. He still thinks there's room for growth in the D.C. market; a Tysons Corner location should open in the next couple months. "I'd like to someday be further outside the city," he said, though there are no concrete plans to open any locations there yet. Garutti could see such markets as Bethesda, Reston and Pentagon City responding well to a location. D.C. customers in general are pretty similar to Shake Shack fans in other markets, though lunch service tends to be quicker since people are in a hurry to get back to their offices, he said.
The Union Station Shake Shack has some of its own custard flavors, which they've produced in conjunction with local D.C. companies. Baked & Wired's bee sting bar is incorporated in the Busy Bee concrete, while the Beaux-Art Banana features graham crackers from Pollystyle.
The restaurant is also serving up Shake Shack's new fries, which have drawn both raves from fans and dismay from customers loyal to the former crinkle cut fries. "It's been a mixed bag," admits Garutti. He says about 95 percent of customers like them, with the remaining five percent split between folks who either are obsessed with them or dislike them. He likens the reaction to when the company opened their Blue Smoke barbecue joint — everyone has their own idea of what barbecue should taste like, much like they do with french fries. "We're going to keep plugging away; we're not at the end of the potato road."
Unlike some competitors like In-N-Out Burger, Shake Shack isn't the kind of place that has a secret menu. But Garutti has found a way to customize a burger to his liking — he gets one topped with the crispy, beer-marinated shallots that top one of the hot dogs. "Try it," he says.
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