Shake Shack is Danny Meyer’s modern answer to the traditional roadside diner. With 25 James Beard Foundation awards to his name, Meyer is most often celebrated for his New York hotspots Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern. With Shake Shack, he’s made his commitment to quality, contemporary American fare accessible to a broader audience.
There’s nothing fancy about the Shackburger. There’s no spin or gimmick—just a straightforward, honest-to-goodness burger. Here’s how it breaks down:
Shake Shack serves its burgers on potato rolls from Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe. I’m not the one saying they’re famous, that’s actually their name. But if they aren’t famous they should be. Buttered and lightly toasted, the bread has a delicate burger-side crunch. Topside they practically melt away. It’s a contrast you notice immediately, and one you appreciate throughout the experience.
The exact makeup of a Shackburger patty is of course a guarded secret. Reportedly, it’s about 50% sirloin, 25% chuck and 25% brisket. Other sources claim it’s mostly brisket. Whatever the ratios, it is appropriately fatty, hot, and delicious. The patties are smashed on the grill, giving them a crisp, salty crust that seals the flavors and juices inside in a way that makes it incomparable to almost any other burger you’ve tried.
Nothing but good ol’ American cheese here of course. It’s smooth and creamy and salty and melts beautifully into the nooks and crannies of the Shackburger’s perfectly imperfect patty.
Again, Shake Shack sticks to the classics: slightly bitter green leaf lettuce, a couple of slices of sweet Roma tomato, and “Shacksauce”. The sauce is a combination of house-made mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard, along with some other unnamed but welcome flavors.
True to its fare, the Shake Shack identity achieves an unambiguous point of view using a few basic ingredients. The primary logotype and exterior signage are set in Neutraface. Based on the typography of Richard Neutra, it’s a perfect paring for the chain’s architecturally-assertive branding. It works terrifically at scale and is surprisingly adaptable across cultures and locales (as of this writing, Shake Shack has 56 outposts in locations as varied as New York, London, Istanbul, Moscow, and Dubai). On its menus, packaging and interior signage, Neutraface is improbably paired with a quirky script called Galaxie Cassiopeia and supported by the plainspoken, stalwart workhorse, Futura. These three typefaces artfully express the ethos of both the burger and the brand. Neutraface is the bun: sturdy, reliable and architectural. Futura is the patty: basic but bold. Galaxie is the lettuce: wavy, quirky and fresh. To the layperson this comparison may seem like a stretch, but designers know they are purposefully expressive.
Simple, almost coarsely-drawn icons round out the identity with the same commitment to funky minimalism that pervades the brand. A bright green (Pantone 369 to my eye) serves as the only accent color, adding a vibrant, pop sensibility to the cool, post-modern-deco architecture. The product names are unapologetically labored (Shackburger, Shackstack, Dogmeister, etc.), but have an inviting quirkiness that keeps the brand lighthearted and fun. With a following approaching cult status, Shake Shack’s approach to merchandising is purposefully malleable and collaborative (yo, Shake Shack, let’s collaborate!).
In sum, they do everything right—no surprise with Pentagram’s Paula Scher at the helm and designers Lenny Naar and Andrew Freeman on the team.
The result is well-balanced and unpretentious. In some ways it’s nostalgic, in others entirely new. It tastes and looks and feels like your idealized memory of that amazing burger you think you remember from a childhood road trip but which has eluded you ever since. Judging by the lines that wind out the door, there are plenty of others as hungry as I am for a taste of the difference good design makes.