Shake Shack opening in Coral Gables

07/12/2012 5:00 AM

07/12/2012 10:09 AM

Not any location meets Danny Meyer’s criteria for a Shake Shack. It has to have just the right “shackness” factor that makes it a community gathering spot and a fun place to hang out.

It took two years, but Meyer and his team at Union Square Hospitality Group found another location in Miami-Dade County that fits the bill. Shake Shack will open at 11 a.m. Sunday in Coral Gables at 1450 S. Dixie Highway. The restaurant will be the largest of the 16 Shake Shacks and give Miami the distinction of being the only location outside of New York with more than one free-standing location for the upscale burger spot. The Shake Shack that opened on Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road in 2010 was the first location outside of New York.

“We have been focused on trying to find a second or third location in Miami for a long time,” Meyer said. “It took us a lot longer than we expected to understand Miami. If you get the real estate right or wrong, it’s a triumph or a failure you’re going to live with for a long, long time.”

Since Meyer’s first Shake Shack opened in Miami Beach, the competition in the upscale-burger segment has been continuing to heat up in South Florida. It’s part of a national trend that has seen an explosion of upscale-burger concepts that started after the recession, as consumers gravitated to comfort food at affordable prices. Most of these restaurants also fit the trend toward fast casual restaurants where customers can get the quality of casual dining food and the speed of fast food, without paying for the service.

New players are constantly emerging on South Florida’s burger scene — one recent real estate conference saw at least two dozen chains looking for space. Five Guys has been on an aggressive expansion drive in recent years, along with other national chains like Elevation Burger and Smashburger. We’ve seen the growth of South Florida-based startups like Burger Fi and CG Burger. Even Chef Allen Susser lent his name to a new concept — Burger Bar by Chef Allen.

Another new arrival is Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, which opened its first South Florida location in April at The Falls. The Colorado-based public company will open its second South Florida location on July 23 in Pembroke Pines. The Falls location set the company record for first-week sales by a new restaurant and consistently remains in the chain’s top 10 locations.

Red Robin is known for its bottomless steak fries and its unique creations like the Banzai Burger, marinated in teriyaki sauce and topped with grilled pineapple, cheddar cheese, and more.

“Florida is a very appealing market to us with a lot of pent up demand,” said Kevin Caulfield, Red Robin’s spokesman. “We have been doing innovative burgers since 1969. We continue to find ways to innovate and stand apart from the other burger chains.”

Industry experts expect the growth of the upscale hamburger segment to continue, although ultimately there will be winners and losers in the burger war.

“A hamburger, fries and a soft drink is America’s meal,” said Dennis Lombardi of WD Partners. “It’s also something that can really be stepped up in presentation. These chains really fill a niche. They have proven themselves in terms of hitting a consumer need.”

But Meyer says he isn’t worried about the competition. His focus is on the quality of the experience he delivers with 100 percent all-natural Angus beef made with no hormones or antibiotics. The custard is hand-spun fresh every day and ingredients are locally-sourced.

Although Shake Shack will never be one of the biggest in the market, Meyer continues to look for additional South Florida locations. His search has taken him from Brickell Avenue to Fort Lauderdale and Aventura to Boca Raton.

The Coral Gables restaurant will be only the second Shake Shack that is dependent on people arriving via car, rather than pedestrian-traffic and public transportation.

Located just across Dixie Highway from the University of Miami, it aims to be a college-friendly hangout with seven televisions, free WiFi and an expanded beer selection. Like every Shake Shack, this one will have its own selection of concretes (custard shakes with mix-ins). The special flavors include The U Malt (chocolate custard, fudge sauce, chocolate truffle cookie dough, and malt); and Cookie Cubana (vanilla custard, Cuban style sugar cookies from a local bakery, salted caramel sauce and bananas).

“We don’t expect we’re going to be the first or last hamburger you’re ever going to eat,” Meyer said. “We just want to be one of the places you’ll come back to.”

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