meez podcast

John Karangis, Executive Chef & VP of Culinary Innovation at Shake Shack

Rectangle with white background and a photo of John Karangis

Listen to this episode

About this episode

#36.  Have you ever wondered who is behind all of the new and exciting flavors at Shake Shack? Meet John Karangis, Executive Chef and VP of Culinary Innovations, leading R&D, menu development, and chef collaborations for the brand.

John's culinary journey kicked off in the nineties at Union Square Cafe, winding through Paris and San Francisco, before settling back in New York City at Gramercy Tavern. A detour into the corporate kitchen of Goldman Sachs honed his skills in delivering top-notch restaurant-style food in unconventional settings. Prior to Shake Shack, John spent seven years at the helm of Danny Meyer's Union Square Events, fine-tuning his ability to execute high-quality food on a large scale.

In this episode, join CEO Josh Sharkey and John as they discuss the intricacies of R&D and innovation at Shake Shack. Discover the secrets behind producing restaurant-quality fare on a grand scale, and get a glimpse into John's passion for endurance training.

Where to find John Karangis:

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(02:11) John's culinary background

(06:48) Endurance training

(13:12) How endurance training relates to working as a chef

(17:41) R&D for Shake Shack

(25:07) R&D Customer feedback

(29:36) Shake Shake chef collaborations

(33:50) When dishes don't make it past testing

(42:36) Union Square Events and producing food at a large scale

(46:31) How to create high quality food at a large scale

(54:36) Working with Delta and seasoning food at high elevation(

57:18) Advice on how to start on a fitness journey


[00:00:00] Josh Sharkey:

Welcome to the meez podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.


My guest today is the VP of Culinary Innovation at Shake Shack, leading R&D, menu development, and chef collaborations for the brand, John Karangis. Prior to Shake Shack, John spent seven years running Danny Meyer's Union Square events, and he also ran the kitchens at Goldman Sachs, prior to that, and he spent a lot of his career working for Danny, his first gig being at Union Square Cafe almost 20 years ago and then on the opening team of Gramercy Tavern with Tom Colicchio.

[00:00:58] Josh Sharkey:

And aside from being obviously a pro in the kitchen, John's also a competitive triathlete, and we talk a lot about how he weaves exercise and competition into his life. work and family. He's a father of three. And obviously we dig really deep into the process of R&D and innovation at Shake Shack, how that works, how new menu items get launched how they get tested what works what doesn't spend a lot of time as well talking about good food at scale I mean the food that john was putting out at Union Square events was just of the highest caliber and I'm talking about like thousands of plates at a time and somehow he figured out how to do it he gives one tip about the use of band saws that I thought was pretty surprising and cool.


John's been a friend for a while and it was just good to catch up with him and learn a little bit more about the, you know, the job that he's doing now at Shake Shack. So as always, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

[00:02:05] Josh Sharkey:

Welcome to the podcast. Good to see you again.

[00:02:10] John Karangis:

Same here.

[00:02:11] Josh Sharkey:

Yeah. I'm sorry we couldn't do it in person, but. We are going to come visit the facility soon. So, I think most people probably know your background. I'm going to tee you up a little bit, but maybe, you know, just because of the, we'll just do the, we'll do the whole thing.


Obviously, you worked at Union Square Cafe. Before that, you worked in Paris for a long time. You spent a bunch of time at Union Square Events. You're now at Shake Shack. But maybe just fill in the blanks a little bit. If there's anything else that you want to share about your background. Other than, of course, what we're going to talk about, which is that you're this insane endurance athlete as well.

[00:02:40] John Karangis:

You know, I guess I followed the normal trajectory of fine dining when I first started out. So it was, you know, culinary school, apprenticeship, like you mentioned, and I was fortunate enough to work at Union Square Cafe in the early nineties. It was sort of really on this path to go down this fine dining route and sort of figure things out as I go along.


But also the. You know, one of those chefs that I always looked up to, and so fine dining for me was the bar in which Greek food was made and, you know, super excited to be on that journey at a young age. And so I worked in some local restaurants in high school leading up to that, which was a good sort of way to be introduced to the business.


You know, like I said, found my way, you know, college, graduating, going to Paris and just really opened my eyes to all the great things I wanted to see and be, Union Square Cafe. I spent four years there and an amazing time and was able to see a lot, learn a lot, and then also. When I finished my time at Union Square Cafe, Danny Meyer was, you know, amazing in many ways.


And one of them was arranging some employment for me in San Francisco. I always wanted to sort of go out there and, you know, see all the things that were happening, which was really like farm to table driven and Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters and Joyce Goldstein. So I worked for a couple of those amazing chefs and got to live and sort of breathe what was important to them, which shortly.


You know, thereafter became important to me and then returned back to New York, worked at Gramercy Tavern when they opened, and that was another amazing, you know, opportunity to see the things that were building off of, you know, where I was in my career at that point. And then, it sort of, you know, I was at this time, this critical time in my life where I was torn because I loved the path of fine dining and restaurants, but I was trying to figure out how I'd be able to have those goals that were important to me in my life, as well as, you know, the other goals in my life, which was, you know, settling down and getting married, having a family and having a sort of white picket fence in the big backyard.


And, and, you know, I was challenged. So I looked at other areas of opportunity where I could go and continue on my love food and people and sharing, you know, those special moments. And I reached out to my mentor at the time, one of my mentors and she had recommended, I looked down the road of the corporate dining route, which I knew nothing, very little about, and that's where, you know, they were hiring at the time and still are, you know, talented driven chefs to go and do what they love to do and do it in a corporate structured environment.

Read More
Read Less