Marisa Martinez is a self-proclaimed Shake Shack fanatic. She's visited the no-frills burger restaurant in six cities worldwide, including London. So it's only fitting that Martinez was first in line on opening day at the new Shake Shack in Dallas. She arrived at 5 a.m., dressed appropriately in a Shake Shack T-shirt and matching sunglasses. In her backpack, she carried an insulated lunch box, so she could bring burgers to her co-workers for lunch.
"They've got good burgers and awesome customer service," the Garland resident said of her love for the chain. "I take that back -- awesome burgers."
Martinez was one of hundreds that showed up to get a taste of the first Shake Shack to open in Big D, located in Uptown at the Crescent. By the time doors opened at 10:45 a.m., the line stretched from the restaurant's entrance to McKinney Avenue and curled around the corner of the block.
Caroline Montgomery of Dallas was a Shake Shack first timer. Enticed by the pictures online, she convinced several friends to jump in line at 9:45 a.m. She decided to go big and order two burgers, cheese fries and ice cream. The women all work in fitness, but that didn't deter them -- not even close.
"I work out for this!" said Michele Morris, a Pilates, spin and yoga instructor.
I know what you're thinking: In a city with endless burger options and an undying loyalty to Whataburger, what's the big deal?
Shake Shack began as a hot dog cart in New York City's Madison Square Park. It was, in fact, part of an art installation centered around taxis, because few things say the Big Apple better than yellow-checkered cars and franks. In 2004, owner Danny Meyer erected the first Shake Shack kiosk in the same park in hopes of creating a hangout space for the community. What most people appreciated, however, was the quality of the food.
According to Edwin Bragg, vice president of marketing and communications, Shake Shack's focus has always been on high quality ingredients, including non-GMO products and all-natural beef. The company also partners with local businesses in each city to offer unique menu items. In Dallas, for example, there's the Link Burger, a cheeseburger topped with a link of jalapeno sausage from beloved smokehouse Pecan Lodge.
Opening new restaurants isn't about rapid expansion, Bragg says, though Shake Shack surpassed 100 locations worldwide this summer.
"It's about taking our time to find a spot to put a Shake Shack," he says. "Dallas just checks all the boxes of what we look for in a community."
See the scene on opening day:
The physical location of Dallas' first Shake Shack is unique, too. The restaurant is situated on its own concrete island beneath 30-year-old live oak trees that shade a garden/patio area where patrons can sit with a drink or their dog and play lawn games. It's one of just three locations in the world built in a park-like setting, says Mark Rosati, Shake Shack's culinary director. (The others are the original and a recently opened restaurant in Tokyo.)
"We want a place where people come relax and sit," he says. "It's the antithesis of fast food."
So, what should you order?
Opening day was, admittedly, my first Shake Shack experience, and when I told people, recommendations came flying. Get the chicken sandwich! You have to try a concrete! Bacon cheese fries!
The most popular items we saw people eating were the traditional ShackBurger with cheese, lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce; the SmokeShack, which comes topped with bacon and cherry pepper relish; and the aforementioned Link Burger, which received rave reviews from patrons. All of the sandwiches are served on potato buns.
Fries -- crinkle cut! -- come stand-alone, or with cheese and/or bacon.
Your sweet tooth won't go unsatisfied here either. Shake Shack is also known for its custards, which come as shakes, cups, cones, floats and "concretes," which are essentially ice cream mixed with goodies like pecans or fudge. Dallas specialties includes the Dallas Pie Oh My (vanilla custard blended with a slice of Emporium Pies' seasonal recipe; right now it's cherry), and the Pearl and Pecan (vanilla custard with salted caramel sauce, pecans and chocolate toffee). Five percent of proceeds from the latter benefit the Children's Medical Center of Dallas.
Thirsty? The restaurant serves beer and wine on tap, and offers select ones in bottles and cans.
Is it worth the wait?
The majority of people on opening day said Shake Shack was worth the wait. (One person we interviewed on Facebook Live said he didn't like much about it, ouch!) But for Martinez, the super fan, it was heaven.
"I have reached nirvana, finally," she says. "I've found nirvana 15 miles from home."