How An Art Installation Led To The Creation Of Shake Shack

Fast food chain Shake Shack has grown into a global business with 275 locations both domestically and internationally (via Investopedia). You may not realize that in the beginning they didn't even sell hamburgers, one of their signature menu items. 

The franchise started out as an unassuming hot dog cart in New York City's Madison Square Park to raise funds for a public art project (via Shake Shack). In summer 2001, the park was hosting an art exhibit called "I ♥ Taxi," the work of Thai artist Navin Rawanchaikul, who according to Guggenheim, designed the display to question "modern methods of art making and exhibiting by converting an ordinary taxi into a mobile gallery featuring rotating exhibitions."

The show featured plenty of "taxi-themed displays," but a certain hot dog vendor who posted a stand there in support of the art installation also made waves, serving up Chicago-style dogs to the hungry, taxi art-infatuated masses.

The vendor was restaurateur Danny Meyer, founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, who headed the Madison Square Park Conservancy and "staffed the cart with off-season coat-check workers from his upscale restaurants," per Mental Floss. By popular demand, the hot dog cart returned to the park the next two summers. Although the cart lost money over the three years he operated it, Meyer persevered, "encouraged by the turnout."

Shake Shack opens its first store

Danny Meyer eventually submitted a request to New York City's Parks & Recreation for a full-time business permit to create a permanent food kiosk at the original location of the hot dog cart, which was granted. It probably didn't hurt that Madison Square Park was seeking to revitalize the area and Meyer had pledged to donate a portion of his proceeds to the area's development (via Mental Floss).

Shake Shack opened in summer 2004 to great fanfare and the company has been expanding ever since. Harkening back to their fundraising roots, Shake Shack still states that its mission is to "Stand for something good," and that they strive to "support their communities through donations, events, and volunteering."

Meyer's persistence and belief in Shake Shack paid off handsomely. In 2015 Shake Shack became a publicly-owned company, and now has a market capitalization of more than $1.6 billion (via Investopedia).

If you want to take a bite of out of history, Mashed's guide to "43 Fast Food Items You Need to Eat Before You Die," recommends sinking your teeth into their Vienna beef Shake-cago Dog, a delectable Chicago-style dog that's a throwback to those formative Madison Square Park days.