Kurt's Flatiron Faves - Shake Shack

NYC - Madison Square Park - Shake Shack
Last week, we came back down the revitalized Broadway to visit the Calexico Taco Cart in General Worth Park. This week, as the sun is setting, let’s head into the middle of the Madison Park, where there’s a bunch of tables and chairs that are illuminated by what seems like countless strings of suspended lights attached to a small-ish building. From that little shelter extends a line of people that sometimes gets so long that it stretches out to the edge of the park onto the sidewalk of Madison Avenue. The building is the first location of Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack.

A little history: Danny Meyer has opened a number of critically-acclaimed restaurants, all known for impeccable service, incomparable culture and innovative cuisine. These include Union Square Café, 11 Madison Park (just across the street from this Shake Shack), Gramercy Tavern (which we’ll visit later) and many others. If you’re counting, he’s gotten 24 James Beard Awards (kind of the Oscars of the restaurant industry) over the twenty-some years he’s been in the business. His approach to business is very people-focus and he attributes his restaurants’ success to making his staff the top priority.

Before Danny Meyer started opening restaurants there, the Flatiron/Gramercy neighborhood was known as unsavory and largely unsafe. Danny Meyer’s opinion was that bringing good business into the neighborhood would make it a better place to work and live, even when everyone thought it was a horrible idea. “A rising tide lifts all boats” was his philosophy in locating restaurants, with Shake Shack opening right in the center of the questionable Madison Park. What used to be a place many people wouldn’t dare to go soon became a place where all kinds of New Yorkers, families included, could come to enjoy quality, wholesome versions of American staples: burgers, hotdogs and shakes.

I wrote in my last post about how the city of New York focused on making public spaces more enjoyable, and I want to emphasize that Danny Meyer’s restaurants, like Calexico Cart from last week, serve as an example of how that type of transformation is never one-directional. Yes, there’s a top-down part that the city plays in developing spaces, investing in public works, etc. But more importantly, there’s the bottom-up, foundational effort from the local business owners and residents that is necessary to really make a difference. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his ventures have been so successful while being so community minded, both externally and internally.

Next week we’ll cross the street from Madison Park to the brainchild of another culinary mogul, Mario Batali’s Eataly, which I like to refer to as the DisneyLand of Italian cooking. See you then!


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