The newest North American location for growing burger empire Shake Shack is located below its corporate headquarters on the ground level of 225 Varick Street in New York’s West Village. While it has the familiar fare and eye-catching interior design other units, this location has an extra additive. One level down from the ground sits the Innovation Kitchen, a new venue where company chefs can whip up literally whatever they want and test it out.
Among the first new items premiered are lobster rolls and hot dogs that have been poached in sparkling wine and topped with caviar, creme fresh, and crumble potato chips. “It’s kind of our upscale take of a dirty water dog,” says Jeffrey Amoscato, vice president of supply chain and menu innovation for Shake Shack. At least 150 people at a time crammed both floors during a recent premiere event, eagerly devouring whatever food was carried by on trays by various servers. For dessert Shack Shack brought out ice cream, and also served up heirloom tomato custard it used to do as a special. Amoscato says the Innovation Kitchen was the perfect place to bring the custard back for the day.
Naturally, hot dogs with caviar are not likely to be appearing on the menu anytime soon, and while the company has included lobster rolls in a previous surf and turf offering in the Boston area, it has yet to become a separate menu item. But the point of showing off these items—as well as new Chick’n Bites served fresh with honey mustard and barbecue sauces— is to trumpet the purpose and agenda of Shake Shack’s new Innovation Kitchen.
“This is us thinking about one location, one burger at a time, one creation at a time, and just creating something that’s unique that doesn’t necessarily need to be for 200 or 300 locations.” — Jeffrey Amoscato, vice president of supply chain and menu innovation for Shake Shack.
“All of our innovation since our early days has been done in basements of Shake Shacks,” Amoscato says. The fast casual moved this special kitchen as it outgrew each space and moved to another. “The last Shack we were in was Midtown east on the corner of 40th and 3rd, and we had a room in a basement where we had to work within the constraints of Shake Shack operating time. We didn’t have our own cooking equipment, so now the team has their full cooking equipment. We can test everything that will go up in the Shack, and then we have more equipment than what a typical Shack would have.” The chain can speed up the creation process and be more nimble with its creations.
The culinary team at 225 Varick will use the space to create offerings that peak their interest, including some they have toyed with in the past and tried to determine an outlet for. “It’s the perfect way for us to showcase what we can do and what we have fun doing and more,” Amoscato says. “More specifically, it’s what we have upstairs that we’re going to start seeing in this Shack, the Chick’n Bites. We’ve been playing around with the Veggie Shack for the last few months. We’ll have some new shakes up there, [like] the black sesame shake.” (It tastes like peanut butter). A cold brew matcha latte, a cold brew float topped with a scoop of vanilla custard, and hand shaken lemonade are also available. The Chick’n Bites will be available at select Big Apple locations by month’s end, and then they will be tested in other U.S. markets throughout October.
When they find something they think has potential, the Shack chefs can test it upstairs in the restaurant. Perhaps it will be for a day or a week. And perhaps if something takes off at this location, they “can expand it to other locations in New York or beyond,” Amoscato says. “This will be like the hub of innovation, where it starts, and we’ll give it a quick shot and see if it’s going to carry on.”
Amoscato does not see any specific cadence to their rollouts. They will just go with what inspires them, even if it is just for them. “This morning, I thought, it’ll be fun to just walk through the Green Market in Union Square. The tomato season’s coming to an end, but we’re going into root vegetables and apples. And what can we do with something in the Green Market?”
Beyond homegrown creations, the company is looking to import some choice selections as well. The black sesame shake is actually a fan favorite in Tokyo and will be a good item to test in the NYC area. “Maybe we’ll bring some burgers coming from international over here,” Amoscato says. “Or we’ll start testing out some international flavors here before we work with our partners to bring it locally to them. We’ve had ideas of Middle Eastern flavors that we can incorporate onto a fried chicken sandwich or as toppings for burgers. It’s going to be all over the place, and that’s going to be the fun thing, that we have that ability now that we didn’t have before.”
In summing things up, Amoscato says, “The bigger we get, the smaller we act. This is a perfect example—we’re adding Shacks, but this is us thinking small. This is us thinking about one location, one burger at a time, one creation at a time, and just creating something that’s unique that doesn’t necessarily need to be for 200 or 300 locations. This is one location to create exciting items. The hot dog is a perfect example. The caviar on it is a one-location item. I don’t know if it will be sold upstairs, but it’ll be here for fun.”