NoLIta to Shake Shack: “This Is a McDonald’s With a Beer and Wine License”


Although the Shake Shack’s on track to conquer points as far-flung as Miami, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia, Danny Meyer may want to focus on winning hearts and minds a bit closer to home.

Last week, neighbors of what is to be the Shake Shack’s newest location at 47 Prince Street turned out in force at the Community Board 2 meeting to oppose the restaurant’s application for a beer and wine license. Although the application was withdrawn, those neighbors, it turns out, were just getting started.

“Stop the Shake Shack in NoLIta,” read the fliers promoting last night’s meeting to oppose construction of the Shake Shack on a vacant parking lot on the corner of Prince and Mulberry Streets. “We need to make our voices heard. Find out what you can do.”

Some 60 members of the community heeded the call, gathering in the basement of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral to discuss what, if anything, could be done to stop the seemingly unstoppable Shake Shack, which they fear will ruin what one attendee called “the last block of Mulberry Street that’s quiet” with lines, noise, and trash.

Attendees of the meeting, which was led by a committee chaired by Debra Zimmerman, were under no illusion that their victory at last week’s meeting would be anything but short-lived. Howard Schaffer, a committee member who’s opened numerous hotels and restaurants throughout the country (including the Standard Hotel), said that “even if the community board denies the license, it will still be approved by the SLA — the man owns 20 restaurants.” Schaffer, who’s lived on Prince Street since 1975, said, that Meyer “will get the SLA to sign off no matter what we say. The only thing to do is to go through zoning regulations.”

Because of the Shack’s high volume and lack of seating (the 1,800-square-foot Prince Street location will have 29 seats on the ground floor and another 30 on a rooftop deck), neighbors worry that the beer and wine license will function almost as a “to go” license, with customers consuming their food and drinks out into the surrounding streets. “This is a McDonald’s with a beer and wine license,” Schaffer said, while one woman compared it to a Papaya King.

Alex Neratoff, an architect who’s lived on Prince Street for more than 30 years, said that there weren’t any zoning regulations to object to. Although it’s prohibited in Soho to have a restaurant on the ground floor of a two-story building, the Shake Shack technically won’t be a two-story building because its second floor will not be enclosed by a ceiling. “I think we’ll lose at a Building Department level,” Neratoff said, “so we’ll have to take this to the Board of Standards,” which is the appeals court that rules over Building Department matters. Additional ammunition for their case, Neratoff said, could be found in the restaurant’s plans to serve alcohol: “To function, it will have to break the law of public liquor consumption in the street.”

And then, of course, there’s the option of dispensing with the red tape and appealing to something Meyer is said to value perhaps even more than all of his restaurants: his reputation as, as Neratoff said, “the mayor of New York.”

“The only thing that will stop him, in my opinion, is to embarrass him,” Schaffer said. “He won’t want to tarnish his brand. This will also affect his tabletop three-star restaurants.

“The more we fight Danny Meyer and make it as public as possible,” Schaffer later said, “the less like he’ll continue on that lot…[he won’t] want one little plot of land to stop [him] from all those other plots of land.”

Zimmerman, who had a copy of Meyer’s book Setting the Table, added that Meyer had written that all of his restaurants “should be by, for, and about the community.” Meyer, in the opinion of numerous meeting attendees, had done next to nothing to reach out to the community — Zimmerman herself only found out about plans for the Shake Shack when one of Meyer’s engineers arrived at her doorstep to test her apartment’s structural integrity.

All of the city’s other Shake Shack locations, it was pointed out, were in or next to parks; even the Upper West Side Shake Shack, which is billed as a neighborhood location, is situated across the street from the Museum of Natural History, an area that has considerably more space than a lot at the intersection of two tiny, already highly trafficked residential streets.

As the almost two-hour meeting drew to a close, its organizers and attendees came to the consensus that the best way forward would be to mobilize on a number of fronts, by circulating a petition throughout the neighborhood, informing the media of their efforts, and trying to schedule a meeting with Meyer. There were also suggestions of painting an open letter to Meyer on the wall of the building facing the Shake Shack lot, and of stringing banners from fire escapes.

But the meeting’s organizers were under no illusion about what — or who — they were up against. “This is someone who’s very beloved; people love the Shake Shack,” said Zimmerman, who has lived at the corner of Prince and Mulberry for 32 years. “Yes, he’s very nice. But that’s not what this is about.”