TAMPA — Jeremy Perez will never forget the first time he ate at Shake Shack.
Several years ago, after getting married in New York City, his wife took him to the restaurant’s iconic flagship location in Madison Square Park.
Originally from the Bronx, Perez’s wife already knew all about the magic of those smashed burgers, crispy crinkle-cut fries and creamy frozen custards. But for Perez, it was all new. In the years since, the couple has developed a shared love for the fast-casual chain, stopping by a location whenever their travels aligned.
On Monday, the Tampa Bay area’s first Shake Shack opened at Midtown Tampa.
It was big news for the couple, and other Tampa Bay residents who lined up for the opening. With Perez’ wife stuck at home working, Perez, 39, and the couple’s 10-year-old son, Gabriel, showed up more than an hour before the store’s 11 a.m. opening to bring back lunch for mom. Her favorite? The cheesy Portobello mushroom ‘Shroom Burger. For Perez, a bacon-loaded SmokeShack was on deck; Gabriel had his sights set on a creamy vanilla milkshake.
Along with recent Jesuit High School graduate John Barreto, 18, and friend Logan Kant, 17, the father and son duo were first in line for the restaurant’s grand opening, which featured a ribbon cutting attended by Tampa mayor Jane Castor, members of South Tampa’s Chamber of Commerce and Feeding Tampa Bay.
Though Monday’s opening marked the restaurant chain’s Tampa Bay debut, there are 15 locations of the popular burger and shake chain spread around Florida (until now, the closest was in Sarasota, at the Mall at University Town Center). It was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings at Midtown Tampa, the massive mixed-use development and entertainment complex on the southeast corner of N Dale Mabry Highway and Interstate 275.
The $500-million project, from New York-based developer Bromley Companies, recently welcomed the addition of outdoor retailer REI Co-op, along with a dual-brand Aloft and Element hotel and the rooftop bar Sal y Mar. Though the pandemic pushed back the opening of several additions to the complex, Shake Shack is the first of many eateries projected to open, including a second location of St. Petersburg Italian restaurant BellaBrava, an offshoot of chef Chris Ponte’s iconic Cafe Ponte, and a new cafe from Belleair Bluffs chocolatier William Dean Chocolates. Also on tap are a Whole Foods Market and some national restaurant chains, including the Drew Brees-backed Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, Ben and Jerry’s, and Oprah Winfrey’s health-focused True Food Kitchen.
By the time Shake Shack’s doors opened around 11 a.m. Monday, the line had stretched to more than 50 people, with a queue wrapping around the building and down W Cypress Street. Shake Shack employees handed out custom Shake Shack glasses and straws to those waiting. There were strong gusts of wind, but, to everyone’s surprise, no rain.
A DJ in the background bounced between a collection of multigenerational hits, from Bill Withers’ Lovely Day to Dua Lipa’s Levitating, while a string of bright green balloons — a nod to the chain’s signature color — bounced in the wind.
The store’s general manager Dana Balch said the event felt unique, in part, because of the enthusiasm from the spot’s employees and Tampa residents.
“It feels different because of the excitement from the team,” he said. “And with the year that we’ve had, it’s phenomenal.”
Many of Monday’s eager Shake Shack fans said they were first introduced to the restaurant — which bills itself as a “modern day roadside burger stand” — at locations along the East Coast. The first location opened in 2004 in New York City. Sabrina Norwood, 65, and Mary Patterson, 68, both from Tampa, recalled a holiday trip to New York a few years ago where they ate standing up in a throng of people because the restaurant was so crowded and busy.
“Once we found out they were in Florida, we started looking for them,” Norwood said. “We couldn’t wait for this to open.”
Known for their 100 percent Angus beef burgers, flat-top Vienna hot dogs and creamy frozen custards, the chain has since expanded to include more than 300 restaurants across the U.S. and more than 100 international locations. The Midtown Tampa restaurant, which features pale wood accents and dark green tiling inside, includes both indoor and outdoor seating.
The new restaurant’s menu is mostly identical to other locations. In addition to time-honored favorites like the ShackBurger and ShackStack (a burger topped with a cheese-filled Portobello mushroom), guests can also expect newer additions, like the Avocado Bacon Chick’n Shack and this month’s Pride Shake, a strawberry and blackberry frozen custard topped with a mango and passion fruit blend, whipped cream and rainbow glitter. (For the month of June, five percent of sales from the shake will go to the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ people under 25.) In addition to the chain’s Brooklyn Brewery Shackmeister Ale, the Midtown Tampa spot also features Cigar City Brewing’s Jai Alai IPA and several seltzers, as well as a collection of Shack-branded red, white and rose wines.
The restaurant partnered with Feeding Tampa Bay for Monday’s opening, and $1 of every sandwich sold on opening day will go to the local food bank.
Shake Shack is located at 1011 Gramercy Lane and will be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.