“It was never built to have a second branch,” says Randy Garutti, CEO of the billon dollar Shake Shack restaurant chain, which is set to open at Canary Wharf in January.
“Too many things today are built for that purpose – so people can have hundreds of them.”
The company, which has more than 80 locations worldwide and counts outgoing US President Barack Obama among its fans, started in 2001 as a hotdog stand in New York’s Madison Square Park.
“We wanted to sell a couple of hotdogs to raise some money for a park that needed some love and all of a sudden people were lining up,” said Randy, who paid a visit to the estate to see how work was progressing on its latest branch.
The other half of the we is Danny Meyers, a noted fine dining restaurateur, who Randy, then 21, met in 1999 after spending eight years working in restaurants across the States.
The first Shake Shack proper was built on the idea of bringing the quality of high-end cuisine to burgers and hot dogs.
“We re-wrote the rules that fast food, destroyed over the last 50 years in America, and reset those expectations,” said Randy.
“These days people want to know where their food comes from and want a balanced diet and, when they choose to eat a burger, it has to be good.
“And Shake Shack has found itself in the middle of that with very fortunate timing and become a leader in helping recreate peoples expectations around food.”
Randy became CEO as they were about to open the second restaurant in 2006 and over 10 years has built the company up to a position where it has annual sales of close to $200million.
“It has been a wild ride,” he said. “No-one ever dreamt we would be here in London.”
The company has branches in Stratford, Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road and Leicester Square and will open in Victoria’s Nova next year. But Randy said it had no plans yet for more sites in the capital beyond that.
“We are going to take our time,” he said. “We are not the company that comes in and opens 50 sites but we love to grow and if Londoners continue to love us, I hope we will.”
He first singled out Canary Wharf as a future location five years ago, identifying the very unit his firm is about to open in following the departure of Canteen.
Although he wouldn’t reveal how much was being spent on the restaurant he said a site in the US typically cost $2million to create. And behind the hoardings work is well underway to transform it into a “glassy, modern” branch similar to Shake Shack’s Battery Park restaurant near Wall Street.
“Every Shack is designed to be of its place, said Randy. “And I love Canary Wharf. It is a financial hub with so many great companies and ex-pats who understand the Shake Shack brand.
“It has a good energy and we love the park right there, the company having been born in a park, so we will have a big outdoor seating area.”
Diners on the estate can expect favourites such as the ShackBurger (£5.50), Randy’s pick the SmokeShack, cheese fries, a variety of frozen custards and shakes (naturally) as well as alcoholic and soft drinks.
Randy said the firm also always collaborated with local companies and, although the Canary Wharf offering had yet to be finalised, the likes of St John Bakery in Southwark, Dum Dum Donutterie in Shoreditch and Workshop Coffee in Clerkenwell were in the mix.
Shake Shack favours a hands-on approach in all areas and the 60-100 staff will cook the beef, sourced from UK butchers to order as well as make custards fresh each day and hand-scoop the shakes. Randy said Canary Wharf workers should expect to leave with their food between five and eight minutes after ordering.
“We like to do things that remind people Shake Shack was born from a fine dining company that has built New York’s finest fine dining restaurants,” said Randy.
The hardest part of growing the business he said will always be finding and keeping the best people. But two years ago the company was commended by Barack Obama for paying staff more than minimum wage and providing healthcare.
“He used us as a highlight of how much money you can make if you do the right thing, “ said Randy. “He’s a fan of Shake Shack.”
So what does the 41-year-old father-of-three make of new President Elect Donald Trump, a fellow New Yorker and businessman?
“I won’t get political. Our only choice now is to decide whether we get behind him as our president,” said Randy.
“I think it’s a fascinating moment in our world. It is amazing the kinship we have in London and New York right now with these very populist movements of change which are very different from the way we as Londoners and New Yorkers think.
“I keep coming back to the fact that all this happened and then we all got up and went to work the next day and the system of life continued. And I do believe great things will continue to be great.
“Who knows how it will evolve but at the end of the day we are just selling hamburgers and trying to give people a great place to have a meal and meet with their friends.
“In moments of madness people probably need that even more.”
Follow The Wharf on Twitter @the_wharf
Keep up to date with all our articles on Facebook