For example, corporate banks and, you know, it could be universities and those types of establishments. And so I started to work for a lot of the big banks on Wall Street and eventually landed a job as the executive chef at Goldman Sachs headquarters. And I was there for eight years, loved every bit of it.
And there were a lot of amazing challenges, a lot of similar challenges of finding a restaurant and new challenges. And, and I saw a lot of great opportunities there, which sort of led me on the path where I am now, which is to. You know, try to cook some amazing, great quality restaurant style food in a very different, non traditional setting, which would include a bank or a catered event and those types of things.
[00:06:09] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. And that's actually, that's where we met, right? Is at Goldman Sachs and you were letting us use your kitchen or we were, there was something going on. I forget what it was, but. I think there's like three topics that I wanted to dig in today with you. One was, I mean, I got to talk about this endurance training thing because I have a million questions.
And then obviously we'll talk about Shake Shack and the Innovation Kitchen and how that works. And then I also, what I think is going to be, for me, the most sort of enlightening is just talking more about good food at scale. And when I think of you, I think of, that's the first thing I think of just because when I see the food that you were able to put out at Union Square events and like, you know, at that volume, and then now what you're doing at an even, you know, bigger scale, it's tough, man.
And I feel like there's a, you sort of crack the code. I want to talk a bunch about that. But before we get into cooking, like, how did you get into endurance? Running, training, you know, you were, you've done Ironmans, triathlons, you probably wake up at one in the morning and, you know, in order to run a marathon, like how did that all start?
[00:07:08] John Karangis:
It all started with just trying to be more healthy and it was as simple as that. I obviously grew from there, but you know, as a young want to be chef going down that career, it has lots of demanding hours in the, in the regimen. The job and the hours and the commitment and dedication and all those things were, you know, taxing on the body and when you're young, you don't recognize it.
You just kind of keep going and I was loved all those parts of it, but I never felt myself as to being. Fully healthy to the level of which I wanted to be, and it wasn't until my wife and I were expecting our first child is when, you know, I sort of hit the pause button and said, I want to commit myself to a more healthy person emotionally and physically, and now I have something more to live for.
Which is a family and so I wanted to prioritize that and I just thought might as well go all in and well sign up for a marathon and do the appropriate training and that's kind of where it all started and it just escalated from there and the more I.
[00:08:17] Josh Sharkey:
Sorry, John, just back up for a second. I mean, a lot of people want to get healthy and then they like go to the gym twice a week. You wanted to get healthy and you decided to run 26 miles in a race. Where's the sort of the jump there? Like, and also like around what age were you when you started doing this?
[00:08:35] John Karangis:
Uh so it wasn't until I was in my young 30s, probably 32, when I sort of made the leap and said I wanted to run a marathon. And I think, you know, you raise a good question.
I would never have been accountable enough. Just go and like run around the block a couple of times, you know, I try doing those things, you know, earlier on and maybe in my twenties and, you know, I lived in San Francisco, I'd go for runs every once in a while, but there was never really any commitment. And I knew through my career and through my upbringing.
My dad and my mom and you would hear all the things about what complete dedication is. So if I was going to focus on doing something that I really wanted, which was maintaining a certain level of fitness, I just thought it was for me more important to, again, be accountable and go all in. And if I knew if I signed up for a marathon.
Which, at the time, and I think still today, to run the New York City Marathon, you have to commit to running nine races a year under their sort of umbrella, and that's how you qualify. So, signing up to run those races would therefore, over the course of a year, require me to do the appropriate training form.
And there were times, initially, I didn't do the right training form, and then you go and run a 10 mile race. You know, after not having training and get humbled really quickly. So I learned again, more accountability. And then that sort of allowed me to maintain, you know, schedule where I was being accountable for.
And I loved that. And I needed that. And that was 20 years ago, and I'm still doing that. I still sign up for races because it's the best thing to hold me accountable. And I've had a coach for years who, you know, is amazing. And so all those things for me, you know, it's no different than a mortgage, right?
If you weren't accountable to pay a mortgage or pay your rent, you know, you'd blow it off. And I would do the same thing with my fitness. Yeah, I know people who Can sort of just get up and do and have a sort of certain way about them and I applaud them for that's not me and through this journey, it's just, yeah, I've enjoyed it and I've tried to stick with success.
[00:10:53] Josh Sharkey:
Well, I mean, I think you're also leaving out that you also have a number of kids. So doing that while having kids is, I don't know how you do that, but you mentioned your parents. Are they? of the same elk, like where did that dedication come from? It sounds like your parents sort of, you know, instilled you with really sort of.
[00:11:10] John Karangis:
Yeah my mom and dad, you know, are amazing. I'm fortunate to have them as long as I do and, and see them. And, and I learned at an early age, you know, all the sort of, you know, cliche things about work and effort and commitment and perseverance and my dad specifically has gone through and my mom as well has gone through, you know, medical issues through the years and certain things that I was able to witness for good and for bad, but for the good was having two amazing examples from which to live by and I've watched them, you know, go through, you know, bouts of suffering and perseverance and so they've been amazing role models for me from which to continue to move forward with my life and my wife and I are doing the best we can to, you know, share those, um, lessons with our children.
[00:11:59] Josh Sharkey:
Do your parents run as well? Do they compete?
[00:12:03] John Karangis:
It's interesting they were not the sort of endurance athletes at all. Yeah, they're busy, you know, working multiple jobs and sacrificing for us and then for me to sort of take on this, this sort of fitness part of my lifestyle. I'm fortunate enough, I'm a pretty good early riser.
I don't struggle with getting up early. And so adding another hour and a half, sometimes more, sometimes less into that on top of that wake up call allows me the time to, to go and exercise and train. And so it doesn't really tap into family life or work life. I just want to make sure that I keep all my priorities in check and although this is the top priority of mine, it can't supersede, you know, family and work. And it doesn't.
[00:12:51] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. That's no joke, man. I get up pretty early and my kids for some reason just know and get up earlier, they're earlier than I get up. But you know, training for marathon, I can't, you know, I can't imagine. The other thing I think about, especially as a, we have a bias here, right? As chefs, it's like, are there learnings that you've taken from all of this training and endurance that you've sort of.
You know, transferred into the kitchen or vice versa, things about like running a kitchen that have helped you be a better endurance athlete.
[00:13:19] John Karangis:
Yeah, I mean, you know, as you know, to be a chef, it requiresa an incredible level of endurance in its own right. And one must need to be physically capable to endure the rigors of the kitchen and of that life, right?
You're standing on your feet for hours and hours. You're constantly on this pursuit of trying to improve, whether it's your craft or baking a cake, and that requires the self motivation to endure that training that's required, right? I mean, I've peeled onions for hours. I've chopped things for what seems like years.
And it takes a special individual to want to do that. And find joy in that and what I found through cooking is a joy that allows me to persevere without, you know, someone looking at me from afar and thinking I'm crazy, which they may and may have done, but I find. Some sort of extreme comfort in that.
And I didn't know that I'd find that in endurance training and racing. And then there are so many similarities with that as well, right? You're constantly repeating the same motion, whether you're running, you're biking, or you're swimming. It's monotonous. It's total lunacy for lots of people and I get it, but I think for me as a chef and someone who wants to train for endurance racing, I enjoy the repetition and the comfort zone of doing the same thing over and over again with the goal of looking to be better and in whether you're in a fine dining kitchen.
Or anywhere else, if your goal is to be better, then you're always looking at the person in front of you, right? There's always someone behind you. And the goal in camaraderie that I've gotten in a kitchen is the same I get on a race course. We're all in there looking to move forward. And it's less about who's quicker or slower, but it's more about just sort of persevering and marching ahead.
And, and so for those things, I feel fortunate to have that, you know, sort of balance in both passions, although yes, it can be exhausting at time, but it forces me to eat better, right. To sort of be more prepared. And if you're not prepared in my job or out on the race course, then. I'm not going to do that.
[00:15:42] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. There's definitely the, you know, I've been to a couple of those races, there's a huge camaraderie there. Not that there isn't in a kitchen, but almost sometimes I wonder if it's just more, it's actually more competitive, you know, getting on the line in the kitchen where everybody wants, you know, is vying for the, you know, for that station.
[00:15:57] John Karangis:
I am not like a top race finisher. So to your point, yeah, there's a competition there, right? There's a lot of money at stake if you're going to go and win the Boston Marathon or an Ironman Trabzon. That's not me. I'm a middle of the pack guy just looking to, you know, inch forward. But you're right. There is a tremendous amount of camaraderie and teamwork that happens, even though it might be deemed as an individual sport.
You could say the same for chef life, right? So if you're looking to... be a multi Michelin star chef, you know, there's competition, but within the day to day, there's a tremendous amount of camaraderie that I would believe. And I do believe that, you know, could result better for you and the team around you if you're working together.
[00:16:42] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. Are there other chefs that you train with?
[00:16:45] John Karangis:
No, only because of like where I live and how early I get up. But there are other chefs, friends of mine that participate in different races. I just got a team's message from a friend of mine who's on our marketing team. She's running Chicago this weekend.
And so that was happening. I have other friends that, you know, are running New York marathon with me that are in the business. I'm inspired by them. I'm encouraged by them. When I feel like quitting, which is often, then, you know, I look to them and I think others look to me and really just try to branch the community out and pay it forward where we can just in an effort to be a little more healthy.
[00:17:23] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. It's awesome, man. Well, it definitely sparks my,
[00:17:25] John Karangis:
We have to go running again.
[00:17:27] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, I know. I know. I think we were talking about that book Born to Run last time you and I chatted. I try to go bare, like running barefoot once a week, and I really screwed up my foot last week. So I'm all shoes for a while.
I want to jump into Shake Shack if that's cool. And primarily I want to focus on just R&D and the process of it. And you guys are in this innovation kitchen downtown. Pretty cool that it used to be Raquel Thomas Keller's spot. I didn't know that. That's awesome. So just sort of digging into sort of the process of like ideation and things like that, like I'd love to know How does the ideation process work?
Like how did, where do the ideas come from? Like how do you organize them and prioritize? Like what's You know, what you're going to be working on at any given time.
[00:18:11] John Karangis: The ideation process is, you know, one of the most fun parts of the job, because that's where we dream big. It's sort of like that, you know, three and 0 count.
You can swing for the fence, trying to not remove any limitations, specifically scale, right? We don't want to limit ourselves to anything. So we think is. Big as we can, you know, what can we do to, you know, continue to build off the legacy of Shake Shack? How can we be better than yesterday? And those ideas come from anywhere, right?
We stroll through green markets. We visit farms. We have Shacks all over the world. So we've got team members on planes. Bringing back ingredients. So it could be something that we're inspired by, by, you know, the restaurant of any sort of price point could be seasonally inspired, could be a supplier sending us an ingredient that they're excited about.
And, you know, from there, we have a tight, small, tight culinary team of, you know, passionate people that are always sort of, again, you talk about collaborating, you talk about being inspired by the people around you. So we're just constantly talking food and thinking of things that we could do to add to our sort of research and development timeline and sort of, you know, processes in place.
So we'll come up with an idea and again, could be from an ingredient or, or any of the things I mentioned, and then think about ways in which we can prepare it and build on our story and we'll then start cooking it. And the first sort of step in the process is us just making it for ourselves. Uh, and then figuring how it can be met.
[00:19:51] John Karangis:
Maybe if it's just a sauce, for example, for like a burger or a chicken sandwich or an ingredient for a shake or frozen custard, we'll think of, you know, what we can do to make it delicious. And is that something that we could work with someone on the outside to manufacture? Can our teams execute it the way we want it scaled?
[00:20:11] John Karangis:
And once we sort of check all of those internal boxes within our culinary team, we'll then present that to our broader team, which consists of folks from our marketing team, right? Because we want to make sure that. Now, if we love the item, it could be marketed, we want to make sure from a supply chain perspective, we can source all the ingredients around the country or wherever it is that we plan on serving it.
We have our quality assurance team, we want to make sure that from, you know, a food safety perspective that, you know, we're going to be able to live around our promise. And our operational team as well, who can ensure that we can commit on executing it at the scale in which we do oftentimes lots of really great debates and collaborations, which can move the item forward or not. It’s a done deal.
[00:21:01] Josh Sharkey:
Before you were talking about kind of the rest of the process, right? So you have the idea and then obviously, of course, you test it. You want to make sure it's scalable. You want to make sure you can source everything. But you said in the beginning that you start with like big idea first.
Like it reminds me of, you know, the famous story about Airbnb when they started and Y Combinator and the premise of do things that are not scalable at first, for example, they would visit every customer at their door to take pictures and learn what was working. And it sounds like. You know, at Shake Shack, maybe the, you know, the first part of the process is throw all the scale out the window.
[00:21:38] Josh Sharkey:
Forget about like, how do we do this in store? How will this
work with this equipment or that equipment? Just let's come up with a really great idea and then work backwards to, to how to scale it. Is that, is that right?
[00:21:49] John Karangis:
That's a perfect way of looking at it. I can't help but always think scale simultaneously, but you're right. So I don't think I do as good a job as explaining it because scale has been such an important part of my career over the last 12, 15 years. You know, when I say think about, you know, let's make sure to have no limitations. That's my way of sort of saying, let's put scale aside for a minute and make it great. Although I can never separate the two.
[00:22:17] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, yeah. Do you ever find that to be, to be challenging? I remember when I was, I used to have this restaurant group called Bark and we had a, you know, a bunch of restaurants and I came from fine dining as well. But everything that we did, we, I think mistakenly, I mean, the food I think was great.
[00:22:33] Josh Sharkey:
But everything went through first this internal filter of how will we do this with a thousand restaurants. But it was this handicap where it just made it much harder to create and innovate. And I think that in retrospect, the way that you're talking about doing it, even when it's Shake Shack and there's, I don't know how many locations of Shake Shack are, but there's a lot.
When you start really big, it's easier to kind of chip away. And I bet even for you, it's hard because even when you're thinking about this crazy idea, you're like, yeah, but I know that will never happen. So do you find yourself like self editing? Like, forget that.
[00:23:07] John Karangis:
One hundred percent you're, it's a big part of the job. You know, again, we swing big, but we're also swinging realistic as well. So I'm not saying like. Let's go and try to, you know, have, for example, you know, do our own butchering in the shacks or make our own sauce that gets, you know, with eggs into it all in the new, that's not happening, but we think about how do we achieve that flavor of, you know.
Maybe butchering or whipping our own eggs into a sauce, but then, and we'll make that sauce that way, and we'll achieve that flavor. And then if we need to sort of, quote unquote, back into how we get it to taste that way, again, still using great ingredients, you know, with sound technique, seasoning, all the sort of non negotiables.
How do we scale a sauce that way, for example, if it's Hollandaise? We want the flavor of hollandaise. How are we going to do that where it's not going to have that three hour shelf life sitting somewhere warm when we know we need to keep hot food hot, cold food cold, etc. And that's an actual example by the way
[00:24:10] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, yeah, I bet. It sounds like you need Wiley to come
[00:24:13] John Karangis:
He’d be really helpful.
[00:24:17] Josh Sharkey:
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[00:25:07] Josh Sharkey:
The other thing I was really curious about is. When you're creating this food, obviously, I'm assuming it's not created in this vacuum of you and your team taste it and then it goes out. Are you getting feedback from customers? Are you doing sort of any sort of live testing?
[00:25:15] John Karangis:
Yeah, we do.
[00:25:16] Josh Sharkey:
And is that before it ever goes to roll out to like, for example, to get into the marketing team? Are you getting, sort of getting it in front of customers in the upstairs? Because there's a, there's a Shake Shack above the Innovation Kitchen for anybody that hasn't been there. So do you use that Shake Shack as like a, the place to test any of these things out?
[00:25:37] John Karangis:
We do. We have, before an item gets launched nationally or elsewhere, we'll test that item in carefully selected shacks around the country.
Many times, if not all, we'll include a West Village shack for the simple reason that it's really close by. My team and I are here every day. Our home office is here every day. They have heavy discounts for lunch and dinner, so they're able to taste it. As well as the other shacks that we were serving it in.
And then we'll get very real time feedback from our teams. Again, making sure that, you know, we can deliver on a promise to execute it consistently to our guests. Love it. We really want our teams to love it too. So there's a lot of. You know, sort of, you know, think about restaurant free meals with tonight's special.
I mean, there's a lot of that we do at scale with our teams in terms of educating and training them on how to execute that with the goal of having them fully embrace and care deeply about what we do. So there's a lot of background as to why we chose that item, you know, where the inspiration came from, et cetera.
And then if our teams like it, we find more often than not, it. Those items will resonate better, sell well, be executed better. So obviously our team is a big part of the success of the overall item. And once those items are tested for anywhere from 30 days to 90 days, then we'll put it on our sort of annual calendar.
[00:26:59] Josh Sharkey:
I imagine the team's also giving feedback on the execution, right? Like how easy it is to execute or if there's challenges or, you know, hiccups in a workflow somewhere.
[00:27:08] John Karangis:
A hundred percent. If our teams can execute it or there are challenges along the way, instantly we address that. Because the last thing we want to do is ever implement something that's going to not only have a negative impact on that item, but subsequently it could be all of our other existing core menu items.
So those are all non negotiable for us. These are intended to be exciting menu additions to our menu items and, and if they're not working well, then we'll address it immediately. However, the good news is we've been doing this a while, so we know how to sort of minimize challenges in advance of even a testing.
[00:27:44] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. How do you capture and collect feedback? Is there a tool you use or, and then how do you sort of take that feedback?
[00:27:50] John Karangis:
Lots of different ways from internally from our teams, there's lots of communications. We're well supported by a team of operational support folks that are collecting that feedback.
You know, to the minute internally, we have teams chats. We have, you know, daily calls, weekly calls. So we're never short on feedback from our teams. And then we're quick to assess and address them. And then from a guest perspective, we have QR codes everywhere in the shack and lots of the menus and collateral.
So guests are, you know, always welcome and. You know, we rely on their feedback as well. So they'll send that feedback and that goes to a team of folks in our home office, who will quickly disseminate that information to us as well to, you know, make any changes we can.
[00:28:34] Josh Sharkey:
Is it all qualitative feedback? Is there any sort of quantitative piece to it where you're measuring?
[00:28:39] John Karangis:
There’s both. Yeah, there's both. And, and our team, our insight team compiles a list of that information and shares it with us. And that's, you know, gets broadcast internally. And, you know, we super analyze those things, you know, from a financial perspective, ops lens, just focused on ensuring again, that the best item could be represented
[00:29:01] Josh Sharkey:
Are there like evergreen metrics that every. Like new special has to, you know, you know, pass through consistency or seasoning or things that get measured. And if they don't hit the mark, any of those that come to mind that
[00:29:13] John Karangis:
Yeah. So we have a quality assurance team here. That is an amazing part of our team that looks at all those ingredients and products and we test for flavor, viscosity, temperature, size of french fries. I mean, we're always weighing and testing and scaling and all that work is done in a shared space here in our innovation kitchen. And I've learned a ton from that too.
[00:29:36] Josh Sharkey:
You do a lot of like chef collaborations as well. Like how does that spark? Like how do you think about which chef to collaborate with? And is that more from the marketing perspective when they come in? And then when you do collaborate with these chefs, are they coming into the innovation kitchen?
[00:29:48] John Karangis:
Yeah, so collabs happen lots of different ways. And as you know, we're born from a fine dining restaurant, so we hold near and dear a lot of those core values.
So those chefs and those businesses are our inspiration. We've never sort of planned it this way, but you know, they tell us that. You know, they're inspired by us. So we're constantly keeping an eye on the industry and what the great ones are doing in an effort to be the greater. So when we get the chance to collab with someone, it's a real exciting time, not just for me and my team here, but our teams in the shacks.
We actually had an event last night, which was a lot of fun. And, and those sort of, you know, how we come about those collabs vary. We work with our marketing team and develop a strategy year in advance. What's our goals and, you know, who are we targeting and, and why are we targeting and where are we going to have these collabs?
So that's one way. And the other way could be, you know, our founder, Danny Meyer, it's, you know, making an introduction or their CEO making a Brandy Grudy, making an introduction and those. So they come at us at all angles. People are sort of hitting us up with DMs and, you know, sending emails. And we love that.
And we wish we can entertain all of them. Unfortunately, we have to focus and finalize less than what I think we all would like to do, but once we settle on who we're collaborating with, for me, I think what we've instituted a little more in the last few months is we have them come into our kitchen and we show them how we make our core items, because although we don't want anything to be limiting or any great ideas to be limiting, we also need to be mindful and realistic of timing.
[00:31:24] Josh Sharkey:
Oh, that's interesting. They learn how to do like the general.
[00:31:27] John Karangis:
Yeah. So we'll show them how we make all of our core menu items. Cause anything we collaborate with is built on our core. Yeah. I'm sure if you've seen any sort of shared information on what we collab with, nothing shocks you and says, Oh, they're serving something on.
I don't know, a plateau de fruit de mer, like that we don't do, we build off our core menu. So we'll show them how we make our core menu. We'll take them through the process, the steps, how our teams season things and how our equipment works, because that needs to be the base that's non negotiable. Right?
And again, not trying to limit things, but we only have so much equipment and it needs to sort of plug and play, if you will. And then from there, we'll work with them to figure out what's important for them and what do they like about our ingredients and you know, how do they see in playing into it and then we'll start cooking. It’s as simple as that.
[00:32:19] Josh Sharkey:
How long is that process usually once you have a chef brought in until there's a...
[00:32:24] John Karangis:
It can take as short as a week depending on scheduling or it can go longer than that. But, but generally I'd say anywhere from a week to two weeks.
[00:32:31] Josh Sharkey:
Oh wow, so it's pretty quick. After that is then your team taking that dish that you've collaborated on and operationalizing it and making it more scalable or is it whatever that came up within a week is that's what goes live?
[00:32:44] John Karangis:
So if any of those collabs were to be on a larger national scale, then that timeframe would be a lot longer, right? Because now we're going to execute it in a couple of hundred shacks. So that timeframe would be longer. That could take several months and it might even be a tested Item as well, but for any of the sort of pop up collabs that you may have seen where it's sort of in one location for one day, those can happen pretty quickly.
[00:33:10] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, you're not scaling white truffles across the country.
[00:33:14] John Karangis:
Well, we did scale white truffles. We did that nationally. We also did black truffles nationally. So that one took about a year and probably and a half by the time we developed it, scaled it, tested it, and then launched it nationally.
[00:33:27] Josh Sharkey:
Wasn't that a white truffle milkshake?
[00:33:29] John Karangis:
So, we did a white truffle milkshake. We did that at a couple of events, but we never served that one nationally.
[00:33:33] Josh Sharkey:
What was the thing that scaled nationally with white truffles?
[00:33:37] John Karangis:
Uh, so it was a white, we did, uh, two times. We did a white truffle burger, uh, that had some crispy shallots and fontina cheese. And then, uh, we did a black truffle burger that had Gruyere cheese on it as well.
[00:33:50] Josh Sharkey:
Nice. So those were, so, I mean, there's been obviously a ton of awesome. collaborations and specials, but can you think of any dishes that you really loved that just didn't work out? Either they didn't pass the, you know, like, execution phase, or people didn't, you know, at scale, didn't like them, anything that stands out?
[00:34:10] John Karangis:
We did a chicken parm that we tested, but a bunch of shacks that didn't work. That was super boring because yeah, I thought it was like really approachable. We did everything we could to, you know, in our own way to elevate it without seeming to be fancy in any ways. We used the Denapoli tomatoes, which is an amazing plum tomato has great flavor.
We, you know, sort of made a sauce with pancetta and onions and garlic, extra virgin olive oil, a little Calabrian chili, and then we topped it on our. Crispy chicken, and then we had fresh burrata that was nice and creamy and some fresh basil leaves and it was delicious and
[00:34:48] Josh Sharkey:
What's wrong with that? That sounds awesome!
[00:34:51] John Karangis:
I mean, I don't know. That's a great question. We analyzed it a lot to figure out, you know what the sort of what the concerns were with it from a guest perspective from an internal perspective our teams were able to execute well, so that felt great. I love when those things happen too because I think that has a life So we're going to revisit that and look to bring it back in a way that resonates. And I may be striking out again, but we're going to try.
[00:35:15] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, it's so funny. Like of all the things that wouldn't work, you think that's just like a no brainer, you know, red sauce, Italian to shake shack. How do you go wrong?
[00:35:20] John Karangis:
Yeah, it was a surprise.
[00:35:32] Josh Sharkey:
Any other dishes that, that maybe were really good, but just couldn't get, you know, scaled?
[00:35:33] John Karangis:
We did what we thought was really cool and, you know, maybe could resonate with a lot of our fans. We did these sort of layered beverages that had really great flavor. You know, they come in a nice clear cup and you'd have these two layers of beverages where they pour half one and then the other half on top.
[00:35:49] John Karangis:
And although delicious, not very scalable. We had the viscosity, um, I think two of them figured out pretty well where it could work. Third one, not so much. And then after a bunch of internal tries, we realized we're just. We're not ready to even test this yet or launch it even in a single shack, but again, I think there's an opportunity there to revisit that soon.
[00:36:12] Josh Sharkey:
So I have to imagine, you know, that a lot of the new dishes that you're putting out, these specials, you know, LTOs, is it more? To build and maintain sort of the brand of Shake Shack, or are they intended to actually, you know, to be measured on incremental revenue that they bring in? Are both of those things have equal value, or is one more than the other?
[00:36:34] John Karangis:
That's a great question. I guess that might depend on who you ask. I think I'll play it safe and say they're both... Equally important, but yeah, that's a great question. I mean, I think they're both very important to us and how we go about achieving that lots of times, you know, is a challenge for us. And, you know, there's a lot of really strong and healthy debates that happen when we look to decide what menu items.
That we know could scale actually make the menu and how are they going to perform? So there's a lot of different lenses looking at them and dissecting them to see what makes the most sense for our brand and is able to meet our financial obligations. And I wear my hat and I do my best to not just wear a chef hat, but I always say I, we try to think like our CEO, Randy Garuti, because he ultimately has to make the most important decisions that we in the innovation kitchen, try to have a complete business mindset when we make it, not just.
I like chicken parm or whatever, and those decisions are critically important. And, you know, fortunately we've got lots of very smart people in the room to help us make those decisions. And I think we don't always make the right decisions, but we, I can guarantee you that we always try really hard to make that right decision.
[00:37:55] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, and to your point, you know, especially with the scale that you have, sometimes a wrong decision is just as valuable because you learn so much from it. Like, oh, people, I wonder why people don't like red sauce or chicken parm, and you can learn. I want to sort of transition into your previous life, because I think everybody can learn a lot about, you know, how to execute, you know, good food at scale and high, not just at scale in terms of like multiple locations, but just high volume.
I did just want to, I don't know if this question makes sense, but just sort of tying off the like tying a bow on what you're doing at Shake Shack, but obviously QSR is way different. than fine dining and there's a lot more engineering. It's almost, you know, a lot more science involved in terms of like how to make things work, but there's still cooking, right?
But I'm always curious, you know, someone in your background that's doing something, you know, at a place like Shake Shack, what do you find to be the same? Like from your time in fine dining, what still feels the same about what you're doing? Obviously you're creating new food and that that's a part of it, but anything else?
[00:38:56] John Karangis:
For me, I think people are people. And people have the same expectations and they want. And expect value and believe it's my responsibility, no matter where I'm going, you're coming to my house for dinner. If I were creating the next LTO or I'm going to find a restaurant, it's my responsibility to over deliver on whatever those promises are.
And so I try to take that mindset and again, my experience is only my experience and I've learned fortunately through the fine dining lens of all those sort of, you know, values of importance, securing the right product, right, you know, fresh ingredients, expertly handled, properly seasoned, you know, sound, timely cooking technique.
And top service, right? If you sort of institute that in the QSR world, in the same approach and manner that you do in the fine dining lines, then I think you're going to be okay. And yes, there's challenges on both ends, right? You might be dealing with a tighter cost constraint on the QSR world, but you could still, you know, buy a better ingredient than what one would expect.
You may have to charge more and that's the challenge, right? How do we do this? Maybe with If you buy a better product and maybe it's manipulated less, or the sauce is one that can be made a certain way and executed a certain way. So there's so many similarities and I would not be able to do my job had I not had the education in fine dining.
No different than, I think, if someone came from a very different QSR background and tried to go to work in fine dining.
[00:40:44] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, I almost find, and I did find it, at least running, you know, the, the restaurant group I had before, before all of this. QSR is just, it's actually harder because you can do the same exact food, but you have less optionality of things that, to your point, of things that you can do to that before you serve it.
And you could, let's just take Shake Shack, you could make an incredible Boudin Noir, you know, in house and it's delicious and it's, you know, moist and it's seasoned perfectly. And you put it on a bun and you put it in a paper boat, one, the price ceiling is way lower, right? You can't charge. You know, more than eight bucks, let's say for that thing, just no matter what, even though you would charge 25 for it in a fine dining restaurant.
And on top of that, in a fine dining restaurant, you can aerosae that thing. You could hold it in, you know, in, in seasoned pork fat to, to stay moist before you serve it. Obviously you can add all kinds of like, you know, uh, you can control texture better because you can do it a la minute and there's a lot more control you have and you can charge more.
For the same exact Boudin Noir that if you did a Shake Shack in a bun and put the, you know, maybe even the same sort of condiment on top for a lot less price and you have a lot less window of error. I imagine you must feel that as well, that sort of, that, that challenge because it is, it's a lot more difficult in a lot of ways.
[00:42:05] John Karangis:
Well, you just made my job sound a whole lot harder than it is, but you bring up a lot of like great points. It's you're right. I think this is my greatest challenge in scaling and I'm fortunate to have this great challenge. And our job every day is to figure it out. And I think we, you know, we're in the best position we can to do that.
We've got. The most amazing team and the resources are endless. You know, we're just going to keep pushing it. Yeah,
[00:42:36] Josh Sharkey:
Well, you talked about scale. Let's jump into good food at scale because prior to Shake Shack. I think for about seven years, you were at Union Square events, right?
[00:42:40] John Karangis:
[00:42:41] Josh Sharkey:
And I don't know if anybody follows you, whoever follows you on Instagram sees the food that you were putting out there, but it's pretty insane.
And I mean, you're talking about doing dinners for thousands of people. I think the same company also does some food for Delta, right? Yeah. Among many other things. But, you know, seeing the caliber of food that you put out at that volume. Sometimes it's like, how the heck does he do that? What did you find to be some of the, you know, some of the biggest challenges of putting food out at that scale, at that volume.
And then, you know, specifically, like, I'm curious if you had any interesting, you know, solves for things that a lot of food is just best a la minute, right? Like searing a scallop, you know, this one scallop at a time and you need a perfect crust and then it doesn't have a huge shelf life after that. Like what was some of the biggest challenges that you found and then did you have solves for things like that?
Cause I don't think I saw, you know, I followed a lot of the stuff that, you know, cooking over the years. Every time I'm like, how the hell did you do a thousand of those? There must be times when that came up when you were figuring out like things to do all
[00:43:53] John Karangis:
Yeah. Union Square events. I loved it there. And, uh, seven great years spent there. I think my greatest challenge was knowing that the other businesses associated with Union Square events. We were in Michelin star restaurants, right? You had the modern, you had Gramercy Tower and Union Square Cafe. And then, you know, and of course I had lots of amazing, wonderful nostalgia, having worked at Union Square Cafe long before Shake Shack was born.
So the greatest challenge for me was knowing that I had to compete at that level. So when I made the decision to go there, it was a non negotiable as part of my decision making process, regardless of what. We do there, it needs to be at that level or greater or else I'm can't commit to go and work there. And
[00:44:37] Josh Sharkey:
Did they know that by the way, when you said that job, did they know that was your mentality going?
[00:44:42] John Karangis:
They didn't know that. No, I think they may have sort of pieced it together after, shortly thereafter, but, and I would tell my team when we first started. When I started that, you know, it's just, we've got an amazing opportunity and an obligation to cook food at the same level as those restaurants.
And that company was born from fine dining as a Shake Shack. Union Square events, which was initially Hudson Yards Catering, was born out of the desire to cater to folks who wanted parties, weddings, galas, et cetera. It was Kerry Heffernan who was the. First chef in Square Events, who came from Eleven Madison Park.
So there was a torch that was passed or that I accepted to take. So building a team of dedicated, like minded people in an effort to accomplish those goals was important. You know, we had all this new business coming on. It was really exciting and daunting. So that was my greatest challenge coming into this challenge, but it really helped me.
And the other thing I'd say about catering, when I started. Catering probably about 15 years ago, there was sort of this like unwritten rule of food, not needing to be great that people wouldn't say, but they would say, and then I remember when I started catering, this was, uh, even during my years at Goldman Sachs, I would have people on my team that would say, what are you doing?
We don't need to do that. It's okay. It's 400 people. It doesn't need to be that hot. We don't need to do that, Alaminu. And I would hear these things and at first they would annoy me. And then second, I would really start to think that maybe there's a road here, right? If I'm looking to continue to go down my career, then maybe there's something here, uncharted territory of scaling food at a high level that I should go down.
And so the more I was told no, the more I said yes. And I would challenge myself and my team to do those things. And so after eight years spent at Goldman Sachs, when I went on to Union Square events, it wasn't being said by anyone there, but I think it was being felt by everyone, including me initially.
Oh my God, we have this 4,000 person seated three course dinner of Robinhood. How are we going to do it? We're going to do it. We have a lot bigger kitchen from which to produce these sauces and things in than Gramercy Tavern, for example. And we have a lot of skilled team members here that worked at all these restaurants and other great restaurants in the city.
And so before you know it, everyone was out on the same page and we would buy raw materials in and do the butchering and, you know, you go to talk about seared scallops, you know, I learned. Pretty quickly, you know, through trial and error that you could sear fish and sear scallops and get things to be golden brown.
And we would sear scallops on one side, you know, in small batches, but lots of people doing that in small batches on one side. So it gets your nice golden brown, but we would sort of, as we would say, a sandbag, a bunch of sheet trays, sheet pans in the freezer. And then we'd pull out a sheet tray at a time.
So then after you seared that scallop, you put it on an inverter sheet tray that was frozen just to, you know, prevent the scallops from, you know, continuing to cook, almost shock it if you will, but not putting in any liquid to have negative impact on its flavor. And then we'd chill that scallop and all those scallops down.
And then we'd reheat them in a steel box with sternos hours later that same day in an effort to, you know, serve them hot. And at the right dumbness that we wanted, but that still maximizes flavor because of that. Searing process, for example. So that's one trick. There's so many, we would oftentimes have to serve several hundred people a salad first course that needed to be preset before they came into the room for, you know, maybe there's speaking arrangement happening and whatnot, and then I learned quickly, obviously can't toss the salad, let it sit for 25 minutes and then serve it and expect it to like it did, but then I would find.
Sort of, I found a way to, you know, make a, an emulsified vinaigrette and usually with a base of vegetable, just because it, you know,
[00:48:59] Josh Sharkey: like a puree vegetable
[00:49:00] John Karangis:
box on all allergens. So for example, if you're making a salad that had a, I don't know, red wine vinaigrette, the salad had parsnips and carrots in it.
Maybe there was parsnip in the base or roasted parsnip in the base of the dressing. So it's thick. It gives you more flavor from. One of the ingredients in this case would be, you know, the vegetable and then that dressing, if you will, slash puree would sit at the base of the salad and then you'd have your, you know, your mixed greens that weren't tossed in dressing that were durable enough to sit on top of this thicker puree that was acidulated.
Guests were to dig into it later, they dig down into it, scoop up the vinaigrette and it wouldn't be compromised, but yet we'd spray it with a little olive oil just before it goes out, so it's glistening the same time. So, little things like that through the years, um, one of the interesting. My first week in USE Union Square Events, we were serving all the food for the pasta night, the night before the New York City marathon, which is 20,000 people. So we had to cook, three pallets of pasta. pallets of pasta. I wanna say it was
300 pounds of pasta. It was Texas sized pounds of pasta. I didn't know what to do. I with. First time they all had to do it.
[00:50:17] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, swimming pool. How did you cook them with pasta?
[00:50:20] John Karangis:
We were cooking them in the giant steel vats. Yeah. We're cooking the pasta.
Yeah. We were using a salad spinner
[00:50:26] Josh Sharkey:
Like the Swiss Braisers or like, like steamers? Did you like, did you cook them in like Swiss braisers? Like,
[00:50:34] John Karangis:
So we did use one Swiss braiser, but we also had two giant kettles. Oh yeah. That, you know, the giant that we would put pasta in the plastic sort of salad spinner, you know, the large salad spinners.
So we'd put pasta in there, dip it in water, stir it with the metal ore, and then we would cool them out on sheet trays without. Shocking in the cold water. So we had tons of sheet trays and then we've been reused the water twice actually, just because we wanted to cook it fresh, but it all had to be done the day before.
[00:51:05] John Karangis:
So this, it was some wild times and lots of great learnings. But again, our common goal was not to compromise. And I know that sounds crazy. And sometimes there were things we needed to do to sort of make it all work. But quality was always paramount. And I didn't realize that at the time I had no idea that was sort of paving a path for me to get to, which is another sort of challenge on top of my previous challenge.
[00:51:31] Josh Sharkey:
Different kind of scale, yeah. Was there any equipment that you incorporated, maybe that didn't exist when you started, or that was there? You know, like hold a mats or things like that, that helped?
[00:51:42] John Karangis:
Proofing cabinets, or those big steel boxes with the steel doors on top.
[00:51:48] John Karangis:
Those are critical ovens in the catering world that you would bring off site in a venue that didn't have ovens. So we would use them for not only Uh, hot sort of reheating or cooking of food, but they would be great to organize and sort of store chilled food as well, as well as, you know, sort of separate them out between parties at any given day that we're going out.
[00:52:09] John Karangis:
But in terms of specific cooking equipment, I'd say what we've learned to be our greatest asset was a band saw, like an industrial. band saw. So we would sell, we would serve thousands of hors d'oeuvres and have like little to sell croutons and buying fresh bread only to freeze it. So you could quote unquote, rip it on a band saw or cut them on a band saw would result in perfect size.
[00:52:36] John Karangis:
Every time cuts of croutons for events, we would make hors d'oeuvres. So like. Mac and cheese bites was a big one. We'd make Mac and cheese bites and we'd build them into, you know, high end pastry pans, if you will, or cake trays, we'd freeze that and then we'd cut them in squares on a band saw. So they're all perfect.
[00:52:56] John Karangis:
Cheesecakes would be made in giant sheet pans or sheet pans as well. Fresh cheesecake, again, only to freeze, which would just give it the quick enough and cold enough chill from which to then cut them, and we would cut them in interesting ways and angles to maximize on the use of the item as well as to give it an interesting, more elevated look.
[00:53:19] Josh Sharkey:
Did you have multiple band saws?
[00:53:22] John Karangis:
So at the Union Square events that was there, when I was there, we had one bandsaw that was in full operation and almost going constantly throughout the day. And it's as loud as you would imagine, if you know what a band saw is, clearly in a butcher room. So we would use the band saw for all things exclusive of butchering, believe it or not.
[00:53:42] John Karangis:
And now I think in their new facility, the Square Events is in a much larger facility now. They have four band saws.
[00:53:49] Josh Sharkey:
That's crazy. I wonder what each was. And we had a, we obviously, at Tabla, we just did a dinner a couple nights ago for Floyd. And at Tabla we had a band saw, but it was just for whole animals.
[00:53:58] Josh Sharkey:
And we would use the meat slicer to slice all kinds of stuff. I actually sliced my whole thumb off on cutting eggplant on a meat slicer. I don't think we ever actually cut meat on the meat slicer, but we would, you know, obviously cut every kind of... vegetable. I don't think we ever used a band saw for anything other than meat.
[00:54:13] Josh Sharkey:
That's crazy. I've never heard that before. That's so smart though, because you can control the angles and the, and the size perfectly.
[00:54:20] John Karangis:
Butternut squash. Oh yeah. Fresh butternut squash cut. I mean, we did mirepoix for Robin and Gallo, which is 4,000 people. We celery root on a bandsaw. I mean. I don't care how good your knife is or how good your cutter is, I mean, perfect every time.
[00:54:36] Josh Sharkey:
That’s so smart. Wow. Very cool. All right. That's a big win there. Okay. You know what? I don't know if you can, I don't know how much you worked on some of the Delta things or some of the airline things, but I'm always curious for that. I've heard that Union Square Events obviously does work with Delta.
I've heard that you have to cook food a little bit differently for airlines. Like you have to season it differently and things like that. Is there any merit to that?
[00:54:55] John Karangis:
It's interesting. We looked at that a lot in the beginning, right? So apparently whenever you're 30 plus thousand feet in the air, food is more bland and like this tastes less salty.
And so I was told initially that, all right, we're going to go and do this thing with Delta. You got to throw a lot of salt in the food and like, yeah, of course. Saying that to a chef, like, what are you saying? Yeah. So we did a bunch of investigating and doing a little research. And is there any merit in it?
Maybe, but I also think it's not one that you can actually quantify to prepare for. I think the takeaway for me at the time was let's cook our food properly and let's season it. Accordingly, because of the sort of very minute chance that someone could detect less seasoning, yeah, wouldn't work for everyone.
In addition to that, the solve is making sure that they have additional salt. Should they want to season their food at, you know, like you would at any restaurant. So it just, if anything, it made us be better at what we do. You know, thanks for that. Let's look into it and let's make sure that, you know, when we build our menus and cook our food, it's seasoned properly.
[00:56:03] Josh Sharkey:
I don't even know how you would do that. Like, how would you mechanically overseason food? You know, like, okay, this tastes good. Now let me just understand exactly how much extra salt to add. That seems like impossible. I'd rather just have some Maldon salt at the, you know, on the plane. So I didn't know if that was like a wives tale, but I have heard that a bunch of times.
It sounds like maybe it is partially true, but you all just sort of went about your business.
[00:56:25] John Karangis: Yeah, I think it's partially true, but yeah. people, let's just be better.
[00:56:29] Josh Sharkey:
Awesome. Well, this was quite the experience, hearing those stories. I'm curious, you know, obviously there's a bunch of chefs and restaurant operators and just anybody, you know, people in the food industry listening, is there anything else you want to share?
[00:56:42] John Karangis:
Well, first off, thank you. I think I'm a big fan of yours and just watching what you've been able to do and share and the people you've shared it with continues to inspire me to do what I do. I mean, I think. Thank you. You know, you're an asset to the industry and you give folks a platform from which to share it.
And hopefully continue to encourage people to do what they love. And, um, and I think that's why I do that. You're not doing this cause you don't love it. And, uh, I continually am inspired by the people that raise the bar. And there's so many people out there and I'm just grateful to be part of the community. Thanks for having me.
[00:57:18] Josh Sharkey:
I appreciate that. One last question for anybody that's looking to get started on their journey to be an Iron Man or Iron Woman. I don't know if that's, it's the same, same word, but any advice on how to get started?
[00:57:31] John Karangis:
Yeah, I think again, I was never the one that could just go out and do something without having accountability.
And if you're, and if someone's struggling to get out there and do it, it's because they don't, they're not accountable enough. So I would say do whatever it takes. And, you know, if it's not as easy as it is for me to go sign up for a race, then call a friend who's doing it, you know, get, find that encouragement any way you can.
I'll never forget. There was a friend of mine a long time ago that was looking to lose weight and he wasn't doing well physically. And he wound up shedding a bunch of weight and it sounded great. And it looked great. And I asked him how you did it. He goes. John, I couldn't even walk from my house to the next house.
And I said, the next day I'm going to get up and I'm going to walk down the block. And then another house and then, you know, he just kept going a little at a time. It doesn't happen overnight. It's a long journey. I still struggle every day with things. I'm still motivated by others. And so if someone's looking to get out there and do it, find inspiration and accountability wherever you can.
People reach out to me all the time and I do everything I can to help them because those folks helped me. And. You know, and I'll continue to look for people to be inspired.
[00:58:57] Josh Sharkey:
Have you ever, um, listened to David Goggins?
[00:58:59] John Karangis:
Yeah, of course.
[00:59:01] Josh Sharkey:
My wife gives me a hard time cause at least three times a week, I'll play a couple of videos before I go to bed.
I'm just like, so pumped to like get back up in the morning.
[00:59:11] John Karangis:
There's so many, I mean, we have access now, so many people, and he might not be for everyone, right? You and I might not be for everyone, but there's someone out there. Yeah. I really believe that, and if someone wants to get started, I think you just need to knock on the right door, and the right person will let you in, and put you on your path, and help you on your journey.
I think it's important, and I know for anyone that has gone on that journey. They were so grateful for it, as I am grateful for my journey. I'm actually planning on running with a friend of mine in New York Marathon this year, who's 77 years old. That's nuts. I met him at the marathon five years ago.
We've been friends ever since. And I've asked him his story, shared it with me. He's motivating me. And yeah, I just want to be with him on November 5th. And, and so I think I still need that inspiration.
[01:00:02] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. So that's awesome. Yeah. Just get out there. People underestimate accountability. One hack I've done my whole life is I just tell everybody. I'm doing something before I fully committed to doing it. Like when I was younger, I would say, Oh, I'm going to Mexico. I would start telling everybody. And then eventually I told enough people that I had to go because I told everybody. And so the same thing, you know, I'm starting a company or, you know, you just, you get enough people to have that sort of that healthy amount of, of accountability and pressure.It's everything good.
[01:00:33] John Karangis:
Good. I think you found within you. What's going to work for you. And I think ultimately everyone needs to find out what works for them. I had one friend that used to make the trainer knock on his door every day because he wouldn't get up through the alarm and then he wouldn't answer the phone and you know, but he paid someone to physically take him out of the house.
And if that works. Who cares how you go about it, as long as it's doing what you want it to do, so.
[01:00:56] Josh Sharkey:
Awesome, man. Well, this was a blast. So, I appreciate you, uh, taking some time out of your day. I'm sure you have, uh, a bunch to get back to.
[01:01:06] Josh Sharkey:
Thanks for tuning in to the meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit www.getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Keep innovating, don't settle, make today a little bit better than yesterday, and remember, it's impossible for us to learn what we think we already know. See you next time.