business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

This morning's Chicago Tribune has an interview with Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti, in which he talks about his chain's accelerating expansion plans: "It now has nearly 100 locations around the world, and ultimately aims to have as many as 450 in the U.S. alone." And, big successes in Chicago have led it to ramp up its Midwestern plans, with a new store opened in Minneapolis and one planned for Detroit in the near future.

"We're so blown away by what's been happening in Chicago," Garutti says. "We're going to keep growing in the Chicago area. We're looking at other sites in downtown, we're looking at sites in the suburbs and I think we've got a great opportunity to keep growing. But over time, and carefully as we usually do; not too many at once."

But what impresses me is how Garutti seems to be approaching the "better burger" trend that is so hot right now.

"We don't want to fight in that arms race," he says. "We want to own and operate our restaurants and we want to put them in great places with a pace that makes sense for our brand and the city. Our brand is the strongest thing we have and we're going to constantly protect it ... We're not a gourmet burger place, we don't do all this crazy, weird stuff. We're doing the basic things, that you've eaten your whole life, just better. No hormones, no antibiotics, cooked to order. I think that's what really resonates. I just want a classic cheeseburger, or a classic chicken sandwich, like when I grew up at all these great fast-food restaurants, but I'm willing to pay a couple bucks more to know how good it is. And to take my kids there and feel OK about it. To take a shot with my phone, and tell the whole world about it. I think that's the moment that Shake Shack is in."

And, there's the thing that Garutti says about company culture, that seems to be counterintuitive compared to what most CEOs would say.

"You've got to keep that culture moving forward," he says. "When people say to me 'this place doesn't feel like it used to,' that's the best compliment anyone can get."

Wow. That's an Eye-Opener.

(Full disclosure: A friend of mine, David Genovese, has worked very hard to bring Shake Shack to my Connecticut town ... and just got the approvals last week. I am an enormous fan of the chain, am thrilled with David's efforts ... and think it is a great example of higher-common-denominator food.)
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