The Untold Truth Of Shake Shack's Fries

From humble beginnings as a hot dog stand in New York City's Madison Square Park, burger chain Shake Shack has always prided itself on making high-quality versions of American diner classics like burgers, hot dogs, shakes, and fries. They use the freshest ingredients available, sourced from purveyors who openly align with their values of supporting the communities they are a part of, and adhering to humane food production standards. The chain also does not include any hidden ingredients in its food (via Shake Shack).

This commitment to fresh, local ingredients is part of what makes Shake Shack so popular. In a 2019 taste test, Business Insider named the company's crinkle-cut fries the best fast food fries on the market, beating out massive chains like McDonald's, Burger King, and Five Guys. The fries are described as perfectly crispy, evenly salted, and not oily or greasy, even after being left sitting out for a while. The fries are praised for being consistently well-made across locations and for living up to their hype, but these crinkle-cut spuds almost disappeared from the Shake Shack menu forever.

Shake Shack tried out a new fry style in 2013

When Shake Shack first opened in 2004, according to Fast Company, they already had their business model set. From the start, the branding, culture, and first-rate ingredients were considered part of what makes Shake Shack a step above other fast food chains — but the company had a secret. One extremely popular menu item did not really gel with the company's hyper-fresh, in-house principles. The French fries (which were the chain's bestselling menu item) were not made from scratch, but in fact, delivered pre-cut and frozen.

In 2013, the company decided to attempt to right this wrong by reformatting their crinkle-cut fries to fit in better with the all-natural vibe they were projecting. The chain's CEO Randy Garutti said the reason for this was that the company stands for "freshness, quality, doing things the harder way," and that they truly thought they could improve the fries by adhering more strictly to these values. To achieve this goal, the company decided to begin making hand-cut fries in-house daily. The new menu item quickly presented some logistical issues, which included new training for staff, changes to the kitchen set-up, and unexpected storage and delivery problems.

Freezing fries is an important step in the process

Food Republic reports that in addition to problems and unforeseen expenses in the production of the new fries, customers were less than pleased with the swap. Sales dropped, frequent patrons complained, and one man even started an online petition demanding Shake Shack bring back their crinkle-cut fries. Shake Shack culinary director Mark Rosati told the outlet that they had made a mistake in underestimating people's relationship to the fries, and the nostalgia-inducing factors the crinkle-cut shape held, falsely believing they could improve upon the fries to such a degree that it would outweigh the esteem customers already held for the menu item. 

Rosati later realized the chain's misstep when visiting one of acclaimed modernist chef Heston Blumenthal's restaurants. While there, a staff member informed Rosati that by freezing fries, moisture gets trapped inside the potato that helps maintain a fluffy, soft interior once it has been cooked. A year after switching to the hand cut spuds, Shake Shack pulled the item, and returned to the beloved crinkle-cut, pre-frozen fries — another benefit of which employees and patrons realized was that the crinkle-cut holds sauce and condiments better. And we all lived happily ever after.