By Cathy Rose A. Garcia, Associate Editor

SHAKE SHACK is officially opening today its first Philippine branch in the heart of Bonifacio Global City (BGC), a long way from its start as a hotdog cart in a New York City park 15 years ago.

Randy Garutti, chief executive officer of Shake Shack, said the Philippine store will be the 225th Shake Shack in the world.

“(In 2004) we were just trying to raise money for a park. We never dreamed there would be a second Shake Shack. I certainly never dreamed I’d be sitting here with you in Manila today,” he said during a roundtable interview at the Shake Shack in Central Square, Bonifacio High Street.

SSI Group, Inc., a listed specialty retailer whose portfolio includes Hermes, Gucci, Zara and Old Navy, secured the deal to finally bring the popular burger chain to the country. Its unit Specialty Food Retailers, Inc. holds the exclusive franchise for Shake Shack in the Philippines.

Mr. Garutti said he first met SSI President Anton T. Huang in 2013, but at that time the company was not ready to expand in the Philippines.

“We were a much smaller company then. We were probably not ready to come (here). There’s a lot of work that goes in building an international supply chain to make sure this burger taste the same. I don’t think we were ready to do it at that time,” he said.

But Mr. Huang continued to meet with Mr. Garutti throughout the years, and finally his persistence paid off.

“Whenever we look to grow, what matters most to us is the partnership, integrity and opportunity that we have together with the partner. We found that with Anton and SSI…. For us, it’s always about partners that share the same beliefs and ethos of how to take care of people, build a great brand, and build something really special,” he said.

Mr. Huang always believed Shake Shack is a brand and concept that would be a hit with Filipino consumers.

“I think the market is ready, the local customers are extremely excited as we have been seeing on social media… Who doesn’t know Shake Shack? Randy and his team have built a great brand. They’re known for the consistency of their quality and taste throughout all their Shacks worldwide,” the SSI president said.

The Manila menu features classics such as the ShackBurger, Shack-cago Dog, crinkle-cut fries, and custard ice cream. The main ingredients for the buns, custard, fries, and Angus beef are sourced internationally.

Mr. Garutti already tried the burgers at the Manila branch, saying it tastes exactly like the ones in New York.

“Remember, this is not fastfood, every time you order, we cook the burger, spin the shake by hand to order… We’re a fine casual (restaurant), not fastfood. That’s the difference. It’s still a cheeseburger, but it’s really good and the best ingredients,” he said.

Shake Shack has also worked with local producers on Manila-exclusive items. For the Shack Attack concrete, chocolate brownies from local bakery Bucky’s and Auro are mixed in.

Prices start at P250 for a ShackBurger and P190 for an Ube Shake.

“Our philosophy as a whole for Shake Shack is we should price the way we need to price, as opposed to this is the cost and this is the business. As Randy pointed out, we need to build the community… We want to be a Shack for everyone,” Mr. Huang said.

Asked when Shake Shack will open more stores, Mr. Huang said the company wants to focus on ensuring the first branch serves its customers well and meets their expectations.

“Once we’ve done… then we will look at expansion opportunities. As I’m sure you can sense, with the kind of demand for Shake Shack in the Philippines, I think the expansion opportunities are endless. We really have to select properly in terms of how we expand deliberately,” he said.

For Mr. Garutti, there’s no rush to open more Shake Shacks. In fact, after the Manila store, there are no plans to open other Shacks in Southeast Asia.

“If we do our job starting tomorrow, one burger at a time and people love what we do, it will give us the opportunity we hope to expand but today we are focused on this team, the guests, and doing it that well. We have to do it so good every day, one burger at a time,” Mr. Garutti said.