In 2001, burger chain Shake Shack debuted as part of an art installation in New York's Madison Square Park, selling hot dogs and lemonade from a cart.
Since then, it has expanded beyond its cult following to 100 locations around the world. The brand has been cited as a major disrupter in the fast-food category, appealing to those looking for premium burgers, shakes and fries sold cheaply and quickly—never an easy feat. Last year, Shake Shack launched its IPO and added chicken sandwiches to its menu. Edwin Bragg, vp of marketing and communications at Shake Shack, caught up with Adweek before heading to the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando, Fla., where on Oct. 21 he will dish on the burger purveyor's rise and plans for growth.
Adweek: How did you land the Shake Shack job after your tenure in marketing at GQ?
Edwin Bragg: I used to live near Shake Shack in New York, on 25th Street, so I saw Shake Shack come to life. When I first moved to New York, one of the first restaurants I went to was Eleven Madison Park [owned by Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer from 1998 to 2011]. I was introduced to Danny Meyer and was impressed by his company. When I saw Shake Shack start to grow, and knowing it was founded by Danny, it stood out to me. It was about the opportunity to be a part of a really incredible brand that people loved. GQ had that same kind of halo effect.
What was it like transitioning from marketing men's fashion to marketing burgers?
GQ was much more than a fashion magazine. It has really good food writing; it's about style culture. It was about being in the know and capturing so much more than fashion. It also was about strong storytelling and understanding our audience, so a lot of what I learned there, I applied to Shake Shack. We have a focus on design and bringing people together, and that's what we did at GQ.
What does Shake Shack's popularity say about consumers' changing preferences when it comes to fast food—and the future of the industry?
People want and expect more in their food options, and they want higher-quality ingredients today, and we're meeting that need. Shake Shack has been about that since day one. We give people a new spin on the classics. We're seeing a generational shift in the expectations of food, and people are loving what we're doing.
How do you plan to differentiate yourself against other "fine casual" competitors, like Five Guys or Chick-fil-A?
Of course, there are a lot of other great hamburgers out there. We're hospitality minded and community driven, so we're bringing those elements together and still giving our guests something affordable. That's what we feel helps us stand out and rise above the fray.
How do you plan to scale up Shake Shack and grow the brand while maintaining the premium quality of its ingredients?
From a supply-chain perspective, growing at the pace we're growing and still delivering on high-quality ingredients on our menu is something we work really hard at. We take our time to work with ranchers and farmers and bakers to help us do that. Operationally, it's about hiring people that help lead our culture of hospitality.
Shake Shack's stock dropped 26.9 percent from September 2015 to September 2016. Do you think your marketing efforts will help reverse the slump?
Yes, we'll do it by continuing to innovate and bring Shake Shack to more places. We recently opened in Dallas, and we're testing our salt-and-pepper honey chicken at the Brooklyn Shacks. We'll continue to innovate around our menu and focus on our experience and atmosphere.
This story first appeared in the October 17, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.