Grills, guests fired up for Shake Shack opening

Shake Shack welcomed over 280 guests to a Wednesday night preview party at its new location, across from the New Haven Green at 986 Chapel St.
Shake Shack welcomed over 280 guests to a Wednesday night preview party at its new location, across from the New Haven Green at 986 Chapel St. Photo by Sara Stalla.

Charred hot dogs sputtered on the griddle, awaiting a bath of cheese sauce and crispy shallots that would transform them into Handsome Dogs, the Yale-themed signature dish at the newest addition to the Elm City’s food scene — Shake Shack.

The restaurant welcomed over 280 guests to a Wednesday night preview party at its new location, across from the New Haven Green at 986 Chapel St. A modern twist on the roadside dive with a cult-like following,the New York-based chain will now bring its signature burgers, flat-top dogs and frozen custards to the Elm City, the alleged birthplace of the hamburger.

Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group — which owns Shake Shack among other restaurants — aimed to create a “new model for a chain” by designing Shake Shack New Haven with its location in mind, he said amid burger-crazed guests at Wednesday’s invite-only party.

“We did not parachute a preconceived concept into New Haven,” Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti said. “We designed [Shake Shack] of its place.”

In addition to the Handsome Dog, the menu for Shake Shack’s “concretes” — dense frozen custard blended with toppings — includes items that pay homage to Yale, such as Boola Boola Blue, Skull & Cones and Elm City Coffee Break. Meyer’s daughter Hallie Meyer ’15, who performed at the pre-opening with the a capella group Something Extra, took part in the brainstorming process for Yale-related items, integrating her love of peanut butter and vanilla custard into the recipe for the Skull & Cones, she said.

In advance of its official opening today, Shake Shack has also reached out to members of the Yale community. Brandon Levin ’14, former president of the Yale College Council, said the YCC corresponded with Meyer and the staff of Shake Shack for months to collaborate on joint events. Garutti said the space is ideal for gatherings — it seats up to 90, contains a functioning fireplace and is partially constructed from wood recycled from the bleachers of the Yale Bowl.

“This is the perfect place for town and gown,” Yale College Dean Mary Miller said, drinking a milkshake at Wednesday’s party. “It is the perfect place to stop by on the way to the Shubert or shopping at Ann Taylor.”

Kai Takahashi ’16, a longtime patron of Shake Shack’s Upper West Side location in New York City, claims to have “personally built up the hype” among his peers for the restaurant’s opening, which was postponed for about a month due to construction delays. He arrived on Wednesday night clad in a T-Shirt bearing the restaurant’s logo and said he plans to frequent Shake Shack in between study sessions to indulge in his standard order — a double Shack Burger and a caramel shake.

Some attendees noted that the opening of Shake Shack does not bode well for all members of the New Haven community.

Joseph Tisch ’16 said Louis’ Lunch, a long-established New Haven eatery that claims to have invented the hamburger in 1900, will face “fierce competition” from Shake Shack.

“I grew up eating Louis’ Lunch and it’s great that they pay homage to the traditional burger, but I think we offer a little bit more,” said Mark Rosati, a Connecticut native and Shake Shack’s culinary manager.

But Jeff Lassen, the fourth-generation owner of Louis’ Lunch, said that the opening would help downtown businesses by attracting more traffic. He said that Shake Shack’s arrival would merely “solidify” the notion that New Haven is the hometown of the hamburger.

“I look forward to them being in business here for quite a while,” Lassen said.

Shake Shack first opened in 2004 as a food kiosk in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park and now boasts 17 locations worldwide, including one in Westport, Conn. and another in Dubai, U.A.E.

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