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

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

Posted on Tuesday, April 30, 2024 at 6:19 amEDT

Last updated Tuesday, April 30, 2024 6:19 amEDT

When Shake Shack crosses the border into Canada later this year, it will debut at one of the country’s most prominent intersections with a menu that draws heavily from what it serves in the U.S.

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

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

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

“You’ll get the same experience you’ve gotten in other parts of the world,” he said.

That means Canadian diners will be able to get Shake Shack’s signature burgers, fries and handcrafted shakes. (The company said it has yet to reach an agreement on pricing.)

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

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

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

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

“Many times we have an American brand that comes to the market and thinks that just because it is a smaller market or it is simply close to the United States, it is going to be the same strategy or marketing plan, when in reality there are nuances that they will have to address” .

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

“They won’t have to rely as much on discounts and trade-offs because Canadians are more willing to pay for quality, innovation and those kinds of things,” Carter said.

The new market and competition doesn’t intimidate Richmond, in part because Shake Shack presents itself as a premium chain that offers 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 in Canadian restaurants. They made up 15.7 percent of restaurant orders in the country, down 0.1 percent from the previous year.

Burgers, including chicken varieties, were in third place with about 9.8 percent of orders, down 0.6 percent from 2022.

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

Customers will be able to order a Salted Maple Pretzel Shake, made with frozen vanilla custard with Canadian maple syrup and pretzels.

The shake, which Richmond says should be rich, sweet and “nostalgic,” is the product of a lot of tinkering in the kitchen.

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

Items exclusive to the country in other markets include a vanilla cream with hibiscus jelly in Malaysia and a pandan sticky rice smoothie in Thailand.

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

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

But Carter isn’t convinced it’s a popular order.

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

“We’re at an all-time low in terms of alcohol consumption because younger consumers, Gen Z and so on, just don’t drink as much.”

Still, Carter hopes Shake Shack’s “mystique” and cult following will carry the brand in Canada.

When asked where their next location will open after Yonge-Dundas Square, Richmond demurred, saying, “We are very excited to eventually expand into the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario and other provinces.”

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

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