Shake Shack's First St. Louis Lunch!
Sophisticated Living is enjoying Shake Shack's first lunch at their brand new location in the Central West End in St. Louis. Our publisher, Craig Kaminer, and his wife, Debbie, chatted with founder and St. Louis native, Danny Meyer. Shake Shack is now open at 32 N. Euclid. The chain was first founded in New York in 2004. Even though the restaurant is a chain, the St. Louis location (in addition to other locations) have distinct elements that are relatable to locals. See below for more on Danny Meyer's homecoming as printed in our January/February issue!
Photography By Glenn Reigelman
You’d think you were dining next to your average guy- 59-year-old man enjoying food we all know and love. But St Louis native Danny Meyer is anything but average. Last month, the businessman/author/humanitarian/influencer opened his burger chain, Shake Shack, in the Central West End, and in addition to his mom, Roxie, sitting at the first table, dozens of the area’s top chefs were there to celebrate and welcome Meyer home with open arms.
“[Sugarfire’s] Mike Johnson was there, the Vicia owners, Salt + Smoke, Gerard Craft, The Half and Half people, Sydney Street, Farmhaus, you name it,” Meyer says. He adds, “The food community in St. Louis has embraced Shake Shack and Shake Shack has embraced the food community unlike any other city we’ve been in.”
Meyer, 59, says he had goosebumps on opening day as he shook hands with an overwhelming amount of customers, comparing it to the Cardinals opening the season “without spring training.” But with a resume like Meyer’s, it’s sure to be a homerun in St. Louis. When he was just 27, he opened Union Square Café in New York, the first step to several decades in the hospitality industry, where he says it’s all about people wanting to be treated well. Meyer is the founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, which comprises some of New York’s greatest restaurants including Union Square, Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, Maialino, Blue Smoke and more. Together, Meyer and the group’s restaurants and individuals have won 28 James Beard awards.
“When we opened Blue Smoke [our barbecue restaurant in New York] it was really the first time I played around with bringing some of the flavors I wanted from St. Louis. But that was also the first really casual place we did,” Meyer says. He adds, “We had just opened Eleven Madison Park on top of Gramercy Tavern and Union Square and I said I’m never opening another restaurant again. And if I ever do it’s just going to be a joint and that became Blue Smoke.”
The modern-day “roadside” joint known as Shake Shack became a public company in 2015. Meyer says, “It’s much more exciting– rather than try to invent something you’ve never had– I’m excited to have our team cook food you’ve had better than you knew it could be.” Meyer says he never could have predicted his success back in his high school days at John Burroughs School, but it’s his passion that is perhaps his secret weapon.
“I’m tired after a day of work but I don’t actually feel like I went to work because I’m doing what I want to be doing.” He says, “It wasn’t considered a legitimate thing back in the 1970s to go into the restaurant business. I’ll never forget the day I told my parents, ‘You know that LSAT I took? I’m actually ripping it up. I’m going into the restaurant business instead of going to law school.’”
Of Meyer’s own four children, he says his daughter, Hallie, is a “fantastic cook.” She won two Iron Chef competitions during her time studying at Yale University. But she’s teaching right now, and Meyer is just fine with that.
In terms of advice for graduates from his alma mater though, Meyer says, “It is a privilege to be in a position where one can actually follow their passion. I know for many people you have to just take a job to have a job. But I would say if you’ve had the advantage of an education like Burroughs and you’re in a position where you do have some choices, I would just encourage people to do the thing that you want to do not the thing that you’re supposed to do. And if you’re lucky enough to do that I think you actually increase the odds that you’re able to make the world a better place.”
*Meyer, who resides in New York with his wife, Audrey, is planning on coming back to St. Louis more to visit Shake Shack. And while it’s still new, 12 “cross trainers” from Shake Shacks around the country will be working in St. Louis to help bring the new location up to speed.