On June 12, 2004, a modest hotdog kiosk set up shop in New York City's Madison Square Park. Ten years later, it has switched to burgers and become a household name with 46 locations all over the world and 1,400 employees in the U.S.
Shake Shack, the fast-casual eatery founded by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer, celebrates its tenth anniversary Thursday with a week of celebrations featuring special burgers created by rockstar chefs including Andrew Zimmern, Dave Chang, April Bloomfield and Daniel Bouloud. There's also free "Shack-cago Dogs," live music and Dominque Ansel of cronut fame baked a cake for the occasion.
Besides knowing how to throw a truly excellent party, CEO Randy Garutti is bullish on Shake Shack's future. It could become the "best burger company in the world, and 'for' the world," he told Inc. on Wednesday at Madison Square Park. It's already winning the popularity contest.
As I stood with Garutti, a line of more than 200 people--chatting, taking pictures, and even doing the wave--began to form. On Tuesday, the line broke a record, as more than 400 people cued up for taste.
Still, the burger chain's ubiquitous founder remains humble. "Like so many businesses that have worked beyond the wildest dreams of their founders, Shake Shack was an accident," says Meyer.
That may be the case, but the business didn't knab a location in Dubai without achieving significant brand recognition. Here are 10 lessons that both Meyer and Garutti learned after 10 years in the burger biz:
1. Hire good people, regardless of pedigree.
"The guest is not first," says Garutti,"The team's first." In the job description for positions that are called "team members" on Shake Shack's website, neither experience nor a degree is required. What is? "Fun, intelligent, super friendly, high energy individuals."
Shake Shack's emphasis on hospitality of staff members is based on the belief that friendly workers take care of customers and will bring them back. It's a simple idea, but not every company sticks to it.
"Not everybody cares about hospitality," says Meyer, "That's okay. They can be great people - I just don't want to hire them."
2. Treat employees well.
In order to justify the friendliness, staff members based in New York are paid $10 hourly wage, more than $2 above minimum wage paid to workers in many fast food chains. The workers also get a monthly bonus that's called "Shack Dollars," which is up to 1 percent of the company's revenue from that individual shop.
3. ...and train them well
The New York Times food critic Pete Wells once wrote that when the staff at Shake Shack called him by his fake name to deliver his food and said goodbye, it was almost enough for him to stand in line again "right then and there."
Well, it's not an accident that Shake Shack employees remember your name, and even your favorite dish on the menu. The company trains them to remember regulars' names through special programs. Shake Shack's parent company, Union Square Hospitality Group, owns a learning business called Hospitality Quotient which trains workers to become more hospitable.
4. Learn from your competitors.
Shake Shack was known as the "anti-chain chain," which means unlike traditional fast food chains, it tries to be unique at every location with a special design that fits into the community. But it's not "against" the chain stores. In fact, it learned from traditional fast food restaurants when it first started.
The one thing that Shake Shack picked up, is fast food's affordable price. A single smoke shack burger, Garutti's favorite, is sold at $6.25, a little bit higher than the burgers sold in McDonald's or Burger King.
5. And then beat them.
Shake Shack's higher price point requires something extra. Using Meyer's expertise in the world of fine dining--he owns Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Café, among others--Shake Shack offers a premium management team and cooks. Meyer decided that there was no "rule" against fast food restaurants being inexpensive and fresh.
6. Know when to follow your gut.
Sometimes entrepreneurs take too much time caring about their competitors' next steps. That's a mistake, says Garutti.
"We don't make decisions based on decisions that other people make," he says. "We make decisions based on what we believe our team, our guests want, and we don't worry about what somebody else is trying to do... We believe if you do a great job, people will come."
7. Be observant.
One of the greatest traits of entrepreneurs is that they can spot things that other people don't care to notice. As I was talking to Meyer, he noticed a guy in the line who was doing push-ups while waiting.
"Yesterday we've got people reading books, today we've got people exercising," he says. "That's great."
Noticing your consumers' behavior has everything to do with business. When Shake Shack was born in 2004, smartphones and social media were on the rise, and that's one of the reasons that made Meyer wasn't too worried about attracting major lines. People would occupy themselves.
8. Stick to your original motivation.
"What makes Shake Shack great is that we never created it to be where it is today," Garutti says, "That is what makes it honest, makes it real. Because of that, we can grow."
The "accident," as Meyer and Garutti put it, originated from the idea of creating a hotdog cart that's almost an art project for the community at Madison Square Park. "Community" has since become the key word for Shake Shack, and throughout the years, it strived to become a "community gathering place" with its motto "the bigger we get, the smaller we need to act."
9. Stay hungry.
Maintaining a growing business requires hard work, and Meyer knows that well. After the line of Shake Shack reached the record high on Tuesday, he still worries that people won't show up.
"I don’t ever take anything for granted," he says. "We just work hard everyday and try to do it better."
10. Be passionate about what you do.
If there's one piece of advice that Meyer would give to entrepreneurs, it would be the same old words: "follow your passion." For many, making money through their businesses is just a way to do what they love. But successful leaders do what they love to make money.
"Shake Shack would never have happened if we sat down one day and said 'let's try to create a big success," Meyer says, "if you follow your passion, believe in your product, do it for the right reasons, and you are lucky enough that people actually want to buy it, go with it! Put the sun on its face and the wind at its back."