Randy Garutti (photo below, middle) is energized. He’s pumped. He’s beaming at the crowd that’s gathered in front of Houston’s first Shake Shack in The Galleria, and he’s ready to go. Garutti, the CEO of Shake Shack, has the success story of success stories.

It started with his career with the New York City company that owns Shake Shake, Union Square Hospitality Group, which was founded by famed restaurateur Danny Meyer. Garutti’s job was running fine dining restaurants. One day he was asked to manage a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park as part of a public works contribution.

Due to the popularity of the cart, the restaurant group eventually opened a permanent kiosk – Shake Shack, named for its milkshakes – in 2004. The rest, as they say, is history. In January 2015, Shake Shack IPO’d, and Garutti’s 2.7 percent stake in the company turned into 46 million dollars practically overnight. Fascinating, right?

We sat down with Garutti  at the opening of the Houston location this past week and asked him a few questions about his global brand.

Why did you call it Shake Shack?

We didn’t invent the hamburger, and we won’t be the last people to make a great one. And we didn’t just want to be a burger joint. We’re selling great hot dogs, burgers, shakes, fries, and we just wanted to be “The Shack.” Meaning, we wanted to be the modern version of that old roadside burger stand that every one of us had in their place of birth.


The Shackburger. Photo by Mai Pham

You specialize in localization. in New York city, what do we have to order at shake shack? in Houston?

Well, every Shake Shack is different. And we work with the coolest local bakeries, chocolate makers – Mast Brothers out of Brooklyn. We work with some of the best pie makers. We use Stumptown Coffee. Here in Houston, only in Texas, we’re doing the Lockhart Link burger – Kreuz Market out of Lockhart does a jalapeño sausage on top of our burger that’s ridiculously amazing. And then we teamed up with some cool local bakeries – Fluff Bake Bar, Morningstar Donuts, Greenway Coffee – all those guys make special cake or cupcake or product for us that we work into our frozen custard.

How many sausages did you try before you settled on Kreuz Market?

Our birth is in New York, and one of our group’s restaurants was called Blue Smoke, an urban barbecue joint. And in the process of opening that restaurant, we went all over the country eating at every great barbecue joint in Texas, in North Carolina, you name it – and we just always loved that. And it wasn’t until we came to Texas that we said, “We gotta put that Lockhart link in a burger.”


Photo by Mai Pham

You’re opening another Shake Shack in Rice Village next year. Why did you choose The Galleria for the first location?

We want to be where people come together, where communities gather, people from every walk of life. You can never time perfectly all the things you want to do and be. We don’t franchise our restaurants. We own them and operate them. And we want to be where people are. And we’re excited about Rice Village next year, but it will be a totally different vibe. This one in The Galleria – we just felt that it gave us the best chance to meet everybody from wherever they’re coming from all over Houston.

One last question: You actually started expanding overseas before you continued the expansion in the U.S. why?

Most companies run out of places to go in the United States, and then they choose to go overseas. For us, we’ve got a unique and powerful brand that people from all over the world know because of its roots in New York City. And we chose to think about the world as a collection of great cities. We want to be in the great cities of the world – London, Tokyo, Seoul, Houston. And that’s how we grow. Whenever we feel like there’s a great spot in a great city, we’ll go.