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Korea rises as Shake Shack’s top performing location worldwide

The opening of US premium burger joint Shake Shack’s first outlet in South Korea was the talk of the town last year, with hundreds of people enduring long waits to taste the famous hamburger hailing from New York City.

Seven months into its opening, the brand’s first store near Gangnam Station continues to see long lines of customers day and night. And this store currently boasts the No. 1 sales across all of Shake Shack’s outlets worldwide, the brand’s founding chairman revealed Monday.

“There are two Shake Shacks (in Korea). One of them is our top performing Shake Shack in the entire world. And the second is within our top three in the entire world,” said Danny Meyer, chairman of the US culinary giant Union Square Hospitality Group that founded the Shake Shack brand, during a press conference in Seoul.

Danny Meyer, chairman of the US culinary giant Union Square Hospitality Group that founded the Shake Shack brand, speaks during a press conference in Seoul, Monday. (SPC Group)
Danny Meyer, chairman of the US culinary giant Union Square Hospitality Group that founded the Shake Shack brand, speaks during a press conference in Seoul, Monday. (SPC Group)


Formed in 2001, Shake Shack is known for its all-natural, handmade burgers and side dishes made with fresh ingredients. It initially began as a hot dog stand set up as part of a public art project in Madison Square Park in New York City.

After becoming a restaurant, Shake Shack grew in popularity and has since expanded to operate some 120 outlets across 13 countries including the US, UK, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Russia, Turkey and Korea.

Under a licensing partnership with Korea’s food business giant SPC Group, Shake Shack opened its first branch near Gangnam Station last August and another in Cheongdam-dong in December 2016. A third store is scheduled to open in Dongdaemun in April this year.

Shake Shack’s Gangnam branch currently sells around 3,000 to 3,500 burgers daily, emerging as the brand’s most profitable outlet in the world. The smaller Cheongdam branch is closely tailing the record, selling around 2,000-2,500 burgers a day, according to SPC.

Meyer accredited the brand’s unprecedented popularity in Korea to the taste of its burgers that was successfully replicated here.

“It’s very difficult to take a culinary brand from New York City and bring it halfway around the world, and to have it taste exactly the right way,” said Meyer.

According to Meyer, this challenge of reproducing Shake Shack’s original taste was nailed by Shake Shack’s Korean licensee SPC Group, which operates the bakery chain Paris Baguette.

The key was getting the right tasting bun -- an unnoticeable, yet one of the most fundamental and important parts of a good-tasting hamburger, according to Meyer, a culinary expert and entrepreneur. With its years of experience in baking, SPC succeeded in this task.

“Until we came to Korea and worked with SPC, nobody had been able to make a hamburger bun that tastes good enough for Shake Shack,” Meyer said, adding that the firm has always had to ship its buns produced in the US to Shake Shack’s overseas locations.

Meyer also attributed Shake Shack’s success in Korea and elsewhere to its dedication to hospitality -- the brand’s founding principle and value.

“A good flavor will bring you to a restaurant once, but a good feeling is what makes you feel you want to go back,” Meyer said.

Shake Shack’s arrival to Korea was spearheaded by Hur Hee-soo, the younger son of SPC Group chairman Hur Young-in, who was recently promoted to vice president of the group’s marketing strategy division.

Hur initially met with Meyer back in 2011 to propose Shake Shack’s entry to Korea. Extending this partnership, the US brand ended up choosing SPC as its Korean partner five years later when it decided to begin operations in Seoul.

By Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com)

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