Shake Shack’s fourth Connecticut location is set to open in West Hartford’s newest shopping center.
By Ronni Newton
Shake Shack – a place that is much more than a fast casual burger and milkshake joint – has a cult following, and is about to gain a lot more followers as the brand expands to Central Connecticut when the West Hartford location opens on April 27.
Sure there are shakes, and there are burgers, and there are fries, and chicken sandwiches, and hot dogs. But none of the offerings are run-of-the mill, and all are made with antibiotic- and hormone-free ingredients, the beef is 100 percent Angus, the hot dogs are flat-top Vienna beef. The eggs are cage-free.
Area Manager Dave Yearwood said that the company emphasizes humanely-sourced and sustainable ingredients. “We’re constantly moving in that direction. We’re in it for the long run.”
The large kitchen is wide open, and diners can watch their food being prepared from scratch.
Yearwood touted the Shack Burger as a must-try – “a classic cheeseburger with lettuce tomato and Shack Sauce – a signature mayo.”
A limited edition seasonal menu will also be available, and Yearwood praised the BBQ selections which will be offered this spring and summer in West Hartford. The BBQ is available as a bacon cheddar burger or atop a chicken sandwich (grilled or crispy), as as BBQ bacon cheese fries. The BBQ sauce is a proprietary blend of Carolina and St. Louis style sauce, Yearwood said.
The “concrete” is also something diners should not miss, Yearwood said. The custom frozen custard concretes come in a variety of concoctions, including Shack Attack (chocolate custard, fudge sauce, chocolate truffle cookie dough, Mast Brothers Shake Shack dark chocolate chunks, topped with chocolate sprinkles), Cookie Butter Blender (vanilla custard, cookie butter, chocolate toffee and chocolate sprinkles) and Pie Oh My (vanilla custard and slice of Four & Twenty Blackbirds seasonal pie).
Eating the Pie Oh My benefits more than just your sweet tooth. Five percent of sales of Pie Oh My concrete will be donated to Shake Shack’s Connecticut charitable partner, Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, a nonprofit dedicated to providing “a different kind of healing” to seriously ill children and their families, free of charge.
Specific to West Hartford, Shake Shack has also formed a partnership with The Children’s Museum.
“Our motto is ‘We Stand for Something Good,'” Yearwood said.
Dana Balch is general manager of the West Hartford Shake Shack. A Farmington resident, Balch has been part of this community for many years and opened the Cheesecake Factory in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square a decade ago.
When asked what makes Shake Shack so special, Balch said: “Our hospitality, our excellent food, our great burgers, great fries, and phenomenal shakes.” The shakes, the restaurant’s namesake, are hand-spun, and available in vanilla, chocolate, caramel, black & white, strawberry, peanut butter, or coffee, and as malteds.
Unlike many fast casual restaurants, Shake Shack serves beer and wine. Yearwood said that the company has formed a relationship with local brewery City Steam, and will serve Naughty Nurse Pale Ale on tap, and offer the Naughty Nurse IPA by the bottle. Shake Shack’s own signature brew, Brooklyn Brewery’s ShackMeister Ale, is also available on draft, as are Shake Shack’s proprietary red and white wines which are made by Napa-based Frogs Leap Winery. For those who prefer bubbly, there’s Scarpetta Frico Frizzante – as fun to say as it is to drink – available in the can.
“It’s pretty unusual,” Balch said of serving wine and beer in a fast casual restaurant.
Shake Shack also wants to build community, as a gathering space and as a supporter of local businesses. There’s the relationship with the local brewery and charitable organizations, but in addition Yearwood said that many of the approximately 70 new team members came through the Billings Forge Community Group workforce training program. The program, headquartered in Hartford, provides customer service training for teens and young adults who have never had a “real” job, and he’s hopeful that many will become longtime employees.
“Shake Shack is a company, an organization, that takes care of its employees in a great way,” Yearwood said. He said he started with the company nine years ago, as an hourly employee. As he moved up the ladder, he opened the company’s first Connecticut location as general manager, and is now area manager. “Most of the management team started as hourly employees,” he said. “There’s a clear career path for how to get to being a manager, and beyond.”
Sustainability and eco-friendliness is evident in the the physical space of the 2,888 square foot space as well. The interior of the restaurant is furnished with tables crafted by CounterEvolution, using reclaimed bowling alley lanes from New York. There’s a brand stamp indicating the source of the wood on each table, and on the other end of the table, an image of Shake Shack’s burger logo branded into the wood. There are several high-top long tables to accommodate a crowd, with purse hooks fastened below the tables for the convenience of customers.
Wood-backed chairs accented by primary colors are designed by Uhuru using sustainable materials, and the booths are crafted by Staach Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood.
There is seating for 60 inside the restaurant, and a lighted patio, flanked by flowers, will seat 40 more.
Employee training begins on Friday, April 20. “We’ll be teaching everybody how to make Shake Shack deliciousness,” Balch said.
An invitation-only fundraiser for the Hole in the Wall Gang will be held as a soft opening on Thursday, April 26, and on Friday, April 27, at 11 a.m., Shake Shack will open to the public at 1445 New Britain Ave.
Shake Shack’s hours will be 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. A mobile app, available for Android and Apple, will be enabled once the restaurant opens. “You can order your food and designate the time and it will be ready when you want it,” Yearwood said.
The Corbin Collection location is the company’s fourth in the state, with the others located in Westport, New Haven, and Darien.
West Hartford is “a great location, we have great partners, and we’ve been looking to be in that area for a long time,” Yearwood said. Company founder Danny Meyer graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, and has been looking to expand into Central Connecticut.
According to its website, Shake Shack originated in 2001 as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in New York City. A permanent kiosk in the park opened in 2004, and the popular chain, which has received notoriety for its milkshakes and burgers, now has locations in 21 states and Washington, D.C., as well as in Japan, the United Kingdom, Russia, Korea, and other countries.
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