Shake Shack: What's the Big Deal?

Food critic Jason DeRusha deconstructs the popular burger franchise, which just opened at the Mall of America

Shake Shack, Minnesota, Mall of America
Photos by Jason DeRusha

Man, people are crazy about Shake Shack. It’s just a burger, right?

Like everything involving ground beef, it’s complicated. Shake Shack first opened in 2004, in New York City. A fancy chef (Danny Meyer) treated the ingredients in a roadside diner burger with respect—sustainable sourcing, delicious execution, and great service. This is easy to talk about, but hard to execute.

“We come from a fine dining background. We wanted to bring those levels of expectations—of the finest quality,” Matt Meyer, the Midwest director for Shake Shack told me (no relation to Danny Meyer).

People lined up in New York, and like In-N-Out Burger on the West Coast, it grew a cult following on the coasts. Why?

  • Fresh ingredients
  • Scarcity
  • Early to the “better burger” concept

People love burgers, but 12 years ago, if you wanted a fast food burger, your only choices were McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s. Minnesotans would travel to New York, hear about Shake Shack, line up for it, love it, and tell their friends.

We want what we do not have.

Now we have it. The Shake Shack in Mall of America’s north food court is in a prime location at the 3rd floor of the mall near the JW Marriott and the new main entrance. And indeed, before the 11 a.m. opening on Thursday, June 9, people are lined up to get their hands on a Shack Burger.

“Everything we do is simple,” said Meyer. But it’s done with a level of care that is unusual. They’re sourcing their beef for the Minnesota store from Revier Cattle Co. in Olivia, Minnesota. They’ve added a local-exclusive “Malt of America” concrete, with vanilla frozen custard, peanut butter sauce, marshmallows, and broken-up sugar cone cookies. Five percent of every purchase goes to a great local non-profit, Open Arms of Minnesota.

This is not “simple.” This is smart people putting together a smart concept. Now, can they execute it? We’ll see. The “better burger” sector is crowded with Smashburger, Five Guys, and the local My Burger chain. But the high-end burger market is only a fraction of the overall burger market right now. There’s room for more burger joints.

And this will not be the only Shake Shack in Minnesota. “The Twin Cities are exciting in the established long-term food scene, and some of the newer restaurants. We’re psyched to be at mall of America for our first location, but there will for sure be more,” said Meyer.

Is this a good burger? You let me know! And I suspect that Joy and I will be looking to answer that question in an upcoming issue of Minnesota Monthly.