“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” may be a cliché, but it’s a tired phrase for a reason: when a company has several dozen locations and a massively successful IPO in just over a decade, people take notice—and form business strategies accordingly.
Since 2004, Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack has made a name for itself by carving out a space between drive-through and dine-in. Cheaper than a full-service meal while boasting a sleeker design and more highbrow pedigree than McDonald’s or even In-N-Out, Shake Shack offered a combination of culinary bona fides and moderate prices that was unprecedented at the time. Now, we just call it “fast casual.”
Shake Shack’s influence is obvious in broader industry trends. Younger burger chains like Smashburger and Elevation sell themselves on a similar blend of less industrial, more wholesome versions of American fast food (Smashburger never freezes its meat; Elevation emphasizes sustainability and organic ingredients), while David Chang’s Fuku seems poised to replicate Meyer’s New-York-restaurateur-goes-national strategy with chicken sandwiches instead of burgers.
Some burger joints, however, make their relationship to Shake Shack a little more obvious. Whether it’s signature menu items, sleek restaurant design, or a suspiciously familiar color scheme, here are six burger joints that earn the dubious distinction of Shake Shack Copycat.
Location: East Harlem, New York
What it’s copying: Swap out “MilkBurger” for “ShackBurger” and “Milk Sauce” for “Shack Sauce,” and you’ve pretty much got the same menu, as this side-by-side comparison from Gothamist shows. They’ve since changed the menu design and their website after getting widely called out in 2011, but both the menu items themselves and that signature green remain. (Their excuse? An intern did it, the 21st century business equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”) Still, Anthony Bourdain maintains they make “a damn good burger.”
Locations: 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area
What it’s copying: Shake Shack hasn’t made it out to the West Coast yet, though Angelenos can get their fix starting sometime next year. In the meantime, Bay Area residents have a go-to source for “fast food burgers, slow food values”: Super Duper, which boasts humanely raised beef, organic shakes, and a streamlined menu (albeit one with more variety than Shake Shack; Super Duper serves breakfast, too). (Photo: Facebook/Super Duper Burgers)
Betty’s Burgers & Concrete Co.
Location: Noosa Heads, Australia
What it’s copying: Moderate prices, shroom burgers, and most importantly, the mixture of custard and primo toppings known as “concretes.” Betty’s offers “Persian fairy floss” and chocolate-covered espresso beans instead of Mast Brothers chocolate chips and blondie bites, but the resemblance is undeniable. Bonus: Betty’s lets customers spike their concretes for an extra five (Australian) bucks.
Location: Cape Cod, Massachusetts
What it’s copying: Founded by brothers and Cape locals Van and Michael Haidas, The Knack has plenty of local flavor—Shake Shack may have branched out into chicken recently, but it’s hard to imagine they’d ever offer clam rolls. Still, the stripped-down menu design, not to mention the simple, modern look of the restaurant itself, is straight out of the Shack playbook.
Locations: 75 nationwide, 29 in Florida
What it’s copying: The bright green! The hormone-free burgers! The concretes! The sauce named after the restaurant! With more locations than Shake Shack itself—though unlike the Shack, BurgerFi uses a franchise model—BurgerFi is arguably the most successful of the copycats, expanding to 22 states in just four and a half years. (Photo: Facebook/BurgerFI)
Locations: 13 in Colorado
What it’s copying: Sharing a home state with Chipotle, Larkburger offers the now-familiar combination of “a burger that understands balance and honors its ingredients,” bright green logo, and interior filled with blonde wood and metal accents. The result is recognizably Shake Shack-esque, and also fits in perfectly with Colorado’s wholesome vibes.