How Shake Shack Makes Sure Its Fast Food Collabs Never Miss

Shake Shack, the famed burger chain that exploded out of NYC, is rightfully known for its thin-patty burgers, creamy shakes, crinkle cut fries, and menus that reflect local flavors throughout its nearly 250 stores nationwide. But, it is also known for innovative collaborations with brands and media properties that elevate all partners while remaining faithful to the mission and voice of both. Examples include a recent promotion for the "Super Mario Bros." movie that included gold star shakes and 'shroom burgers, and a collaboration with the "Hot Ones" web series that was obviously quite spicy.

So, how does Shake Shack approach collaborations to ensure that they are creative, on-brand, and successful? Recently, Tasting Table spoke with Shake Shack's VP of Culinary Innovation and Executive Chef, John Karangis, about incorporating playful, conceptual ideas that ring true. "It is challenging," he said, "because you want to make sure that everyone is fully represented in a way while elevating. I think all those companies that we've worked with speak the same voice as us and have the same core values, so that makes it really easy." Karangis added that the collaborations likely wouldn't work if such was not the case.

Putting in the work

Surprisingly, notes Karangis, when approached by a brand for a collaboration, food — which he jokingly says is "the easy part" — isn't the first consideration. Instead, it's about finding a thoughtful melding of the brands that will excite fans of each. "I want to ... look for a way that's gonna work. I mean, it takes a lot of work, lots of different iterations of things, but ultimately we come to a place that we're really excited about."

In Shake Shack's corporate kitchens, chefs work to create a menu that appeals to their loyal fans as well as those who may be trying the restaurant for the first time based on the collaboration. Several rounds of internal tastings help hone the menu, followed by rounds of tasting with stakeholders from the partner entity to ensure what is being offered is reflective of their identity and message. Getting it right before roll-out is critical, says Karangis, and if that takes a little bit more work, then so be it.

The real thrill for the executive chef is when Shake Shack is approached for a possible collaboration by a brand or media property that resonates with the restaurant's creative team. "It's always an honor to us when people want to work with us," he said. "If they're brands that we're inspired by, then we jump at the chance."