Shake Shack is coming to Canada

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In this 2016 file photo, people walk past a Shake Shack restaurant, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

TORONTO

Canadians with a craving for juicy burgers and hand-stirred milkshakes from Shake Shack won’t have to cross the border to satisfy their cravings.

Toronto-based private investment firms Osmington Inc. and Harlo Entertainment Inc. on Wednesday announced plans to bring the US fast-food giant to Canada.

Shake Shack’s Canadian debut will begin with a flagship location in Toronto, set to open in 2024, the companies say, with plans for 35 locations across the country by 2035.

The New York-based fast-food brand, which started in 2001 with a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park and now has 440 locations worldwide, has had its eye on Canada “for quite some time,” the company’s chief global licensing officer said. Michael Kark, in a statement.

He promised Canadian locations will offer a mix of Shake Shack classics, including burgers, chicken sandwiches, crispy fries, frozen custard, beer and wine, along with “bespoke Canada-exclusive items.”

An Osmington spokesman declined to say which Canadian items the brand has planned for its menu, which Toronto location it will open its first location at, or which other provinces Shake Shack plans to move to.

However, Kark described Osmington and Harlo as “extraordinary” partners in the company’s expansion.

Osmington was involved in the Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg and the retail redevelopment of Toronto’s Union Station, while Harlo is behind restaurants like Mimi Chinese, Kasa Moto and Planta.

“Shake Shack has long been a brand we admire,” Osmington CEO Lawrence Zucker said in a statement.

“Their emphasis on community building, enlightened hospitality and exceptional food quality aligns with our values ​​and we’re excited to bring them to Canada.”

Shake Shack’s long-awaited entry into the Canadian market comes amid a wave of US fast food brands expanding into Canada over the past decade.

Five Guys, Carl’s Jr., Wahlburgers and Blaze Pizza all flocked to Canada before Chick-fil-A and Dave’s Hot Chicken moved north in recent years.

The latest entrants have leaned heavily on chicken, a category that has grown in popularity as some consumers become more health conscious and are shifting their diets away from red meat.

Chicken sandwiches were included in 7.3 percent of all restaurant orders in Canada in 2020, according to data from research firm NPD Group. That’s 386.4 million servings.

About 17.6 million BBQ chicken sandwiches were ordered in Canada in 2020, up 40 percent from the previous year, while 228 million breaded chicken sandwiches were devoured, down three percent from the previous year.

However, burgers, the star of the Shake Shack menu, still reign supreme. They were included in 9.6 percent of all Canadian restaurant orders in 2020, equivalent to 739.3 million servings of burgers.

Canadian companies have dealt with the onslaught of American counterparts by expanding their own fast food offerings. Several added chicken sandwiches and all-day breakfast menus, while Tim Hortons partnered with pop superstar Justin Bieber to launch three new Timbit flavors — dubbed Timbiebs — and experiment with flatbread pizza.

But attracting customers has become even harder after inflation hit a near 40-year high last year, making the cost of dining out harder for consumers to bear.

The latest data from Statistics Canada shows that the cost of groceries purchased at take-out restaurants has risen 8.6 percent since last February.

Fast food visits in Canada grew 9 percent in 2022, just below the 11 percent increase in 2021, research from the NPD Group shows.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 22, 2023.