Randy Garutti is the CEO of Shake Shack, an iconic fast-casual restaurant chain that started as a hot dog cart inside Madison Square Park in 2001.
In the year 2000, Madison Square Park was a place you walked around, not through, at night. At the time, I was general manager at Union Square Hospitality Group and we had two fine dining restaurants in the neighborhood – Tabla and Eleven Madison Park. When we thought about the challenge and uncertainty of the neighborhood, we looked at the park and decided to help. We were determined to be an anchor for the rejuvenation of Flatiron and worked with other neighborhood partners to form the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
The first art installation in the park was a hot dog cart called “I <3 Taxi” and the money we earned went to the park. The hot dogs were made out of the private dining room at Eleven Madison Park. It grew in popularity, and it wasn’t uncommon to see lines around the block for our hot dogs.
People began wondering, “Could this be permanent?” The City released a public RFP, and we commissioned architects to design a kiosk in dialogue with the park. That’s not just the story of Shake Shack, it’s the story of how Madison Square Park became a community gathering place for the world.
Shake Shack has been a constant evolution, challenging everything about burgers, about ice cream, and about how you get your food in a little kiosk in the park. Twenty years ago, you couldn’t get quality food in a park. We challenged that notion while staying true to the same core values that resonated across our fine dining community. Who wrote the rule that fast food needs to be bad? Why can’t we do it with great ingredients, cooked to-order, in a setting that can’t be matched – the Flatiron District?
Nearly two decades ago, the confidence to help turn Flatiron around was a leap of faith that the whole neighborhood took. That’s why we’re staying open during these challenging times, and making sure our community and our team are safe. We’re moving forward with the confidence that we will rise again.
I recently rode my bike throughout the city. I saw New Yorkers. I saw entrepreneurial spirit. I saw rebuilding. I saw confidence. It’s hard, and it may be hard for a while, but we have to believe it’s going to come back. That means getting open, staying open, rebuilding, employing people, creating jobs, and bringing back the community we created.
Let’s rebuild again like we have many times in this neighborhood.