Danny Meyer has been turbocharging salivary glands for years with a burger made from fresh, never frozen ingredients. But until more recently, many of his restaurant’s fans were unfamiliar with the man behind Shake Shack. That’s quickly changing as Meyer’s celebrity is sizzling after the New York restaurateur took his famed burger joint public this week.
In many ways, Meyer’s culinary accomplishments have outpaced his image, but what he has lacked in the way of panache, recognition or a cult following -- think Tom Colicchio or Guy Fieri -- he has made up for with a successful brand with which people identify and crave. When it comes to gourmet fast-food burgers, Meyer's is the crème de la crème, and it has raised the standard on casual dining.
Meyer founded Shake Shack a little over 10 years ago. The restaurant’s first location in Madison Square Park is a kind of shrine on New York’s cityscape. Standing in line for up to hours on end to get a hold of a coveted “ShackBurger” or “SmokeShack” has become a rite of passage for many visitors to New York.
But Meyer’s roots as an accomplished restaurateur go much deeper. Ten restaurants across the city bear his signature. His first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, opened in October 1985 and has been widely praised as one of the best sandwich joints in town. Other endeavors to his name include Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Terrace 5 and The Modern at the Museum of Modern Art.
Investors have embraced so-called fast-casual chains in recent years, with companies such as Habit Restaurants, a burger chain based on the West Coast, profiting greatly from going public in 2014. After Shake Shack’s first day on the market, its stock soared more than 130 percent. The restaurant chain, part of Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, will soon become its own entity. With 21 percent of the company's shares, Meyer is slated to make a killing to the tune of $127 million to $141 million.
Today, there are 63 Shake Shack locations in nine countries around the world, including Dubai and London. Stateside, there are currently 31 Shake Shack locations, with plans to open 10 new U.S. stores every year for the foreseeable future, beginning in 2015.
Below is a look at some of the other celebrity chef’s whose brands have made them a household name.
As head judge on Bravo TV’s reality series “Top Chef,” Tom Colicchio has been one of television’s most recognizable culinary faces. The New Jersey native of Italian descent co-founded the Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan in July 1994 with Meyer. The joint topped Zagat’s most popular restaurants list in 2003 and 2005. Colicchio is best known for starting Craft and Colicchio & Sons restaurants. His estimated worth is about $20 million.
It’s hard to separate the blond highlights and black Van Dyke beard from Fieri’s all-American brand. The 47-year-old king of comfort food and Food Network star got his start working at Red Lion Inn in Eureka, California, before attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he studied hotel management. He went on to found Johnny Garlic’s in California before winning the second season of the Food Network’s “The Next Food Network Star.”
Fieri launched his own television show in 2006 called “Guy’s Big Bite,” later taking his culinary pursuits on the road with “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” In 2010, he became a game show host with “Minute to Win It,” in which contestants use everyday objects in 60-second challenges. His worth has been estimated at about $8.5 million.
By far one of the biggest names in restaurant hospitality, Wolfgang Puck got his culinary start in Los Angeles in the 1970s. The restaurant that made Puck famous is the now-shuttered West Hollywood spot Ma Maison. The restaurant’s eccentric atmosphere made it a destination for glamorous diners who flocked to Ma Maison in Rolls Royces and Bentleys.
He now owns dozens of restaurants across the U.S., as well as cookbooks and catering services. His brand has earned him an estimated $75 million, making him the fourth richest chef in the world.
The chef and co-owner of Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen is also the host of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” on the Travel Channel. The show has aired for six seasons with over 100 episodes and counting. Zimmern got his start in New York City, working in several of the city’s fine-dining restaurants. His breakthrough came during a four-and-a-half year term as executive chef of Café Un Deux Trois on West 44th Street near Times Square. His net worth is in the ballpark of $8 million.