May 21st, 2024

Shake Shack reveals plans for first Canadian location at Yonge-Dundas Square

By Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press on April 30, 2024.

A Shake Shack location is seen in Las Vegas, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Shake Shack's first Canadian location will land at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto and have a menu largely borrowing from what it serves in the U.S.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Locher

TORONTO – When Shake Shack crosses the border into Canada later this year, it will make its debut at one of the country’s most prominent intersections with a menu largely borrowing from what it serves in the U.S.

The fast-food company’s first Canadian location will take over the northeast corner of Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto with a 5,500 square-foot space once home to an Adidas.

The restaurant will offer a window into how Toronto-based private investment firms Osmington Inc. and Harlo Entertainment Inc. intend to replicate the New York-based brand across Canada, where they have said they will open 35 locations by 2035.

Billy Richmond, Shake Shack Canada’s business director, said the Toronto location will open early this summer. Most of its offerings will be recognizable to those who have tasted Shake Shack in other countries.

“You’re going to get the same experience you’ve received elsewhere in the world,” he said.

That means Canadian diners will be able to get their hands on Shake Shack’s burgers, crinkle-cut fries and handspun milkshakes.(The company said it has yet to settle on prices.)

Shake Shack’s Canadian debut comes as several other fast food chains plot expansions in the country. Inspire Brands will bring sandwich chain Jimmy John’s to Canada soon, while Redberry Restaurants is plotting to open more than 300 Jersey Mike’s locations in the country by 2034.

Plus, the country has a strong contingent of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, A&W and Harvey’s that will serve as Shake Shack rivals.

The Canadian restaurant market is quite different than what Shake Shack is used to in the U.S., said Robert Carter, a food industry analyst with StratonHunter Group, in an interview held before Shake Shack revealed its first Toronto location.

“They’re coming from a market that’s $800 billion in size to a market that’s $90 to $100 billion in size here in Canada,” he said.

“Too many times we’ll have a U.S. brand that’ll come into the market and think just because it’s a smaller market or they’re just close to the U.S., it’s going to be the same strategy or marketing plan, when in fact there’s nuances they’ll have to address.”

For example, he said the U.S. market is much more value-driven and menus there are splashed with dollar deals.

“They won’t have to rely so much on discount and dealing because Canadians are more willing to pay for quality, innovation, those types of things,” Carter said.

The new market and the competition don’t intimidate Richmond, in part because Shake Shack fashions itself as a premium chain offering some of the most popular fast-food items.

A 2023 report from Restaurants Canada named French fries, along with sweet potato fries and onion rings, as the most ordered foods at Canadian restaurants. They made it into 15.7 per cent of restaurant orders in the country, down 0.1 per cent from a year earlier.

Burgers, including chicken varieties, ranked third with about 9.8 per cent of orders, down 0.6 per cent from 2022.

Shake Shack’s Canadian debut won’t just rely on fast-food staples. It will also come with a few twists, including a Toronto-exclusive menu item.

Customers will be able to order a maple salted pretzel shake, made of frozen vanilla custard streaked with Canadian maple syrup and pretzels.

The shake, which Richmond said is meant to be rich, sweet and “nostalgic,” is the product of lots of tinkering in the kitchen.

“We went through a handful of variations and looked at different shake flavours that we thought would resonate well with Canadians and ultimately landed on our maple salted pretzel shake,” he said.

Country-exclusive items in other markets have included a hibiscus jelly-topped vanilla custard in Malaysia and a pandan sticky rice shake in Thailand.

As is customary at its U.S. locations, Shake Shack will also sell beer and wine – a rarity for Canadian fast-food joints.

“It definitely sets us apart from our peers,” Richmond said.

But Carter isn’t convinced it will be a popular order.

“The reality is that alcohol consumption in Canada is declining,” he said.

“We’re at a pretty much historical low in terms of alcohol consumption because younger consumers, the gen Z and whatnot, they’re just not drinking as much.”

Still, Carter expects Shake Shack’s “mystique” and cult-like following to carry the brand in Canada.

Asked where its next location will open after Yonge-Dundas Square, Richmond demurred saying, “we’re really excited to in time be expanding across the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario and other provinces.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024.

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