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Shake Shack's Danny Meyer says people now 'live to eat,' and that's a good thing

Calder McHugh
Associate Editor

Restaurateur Danny Meyer thinks appreciation for good food has changed drastically—for the better — in his lifetime.

The man behind the wildly popular fast casual chain Shake Shack (SHAK) has contributed significantly to making good (cheap) food for the masses. Shake Shack started as a stand in New York City’s Madison Square Park in 2001, and now has over 200 locations around the United States.

“When I grew up, there were a whole lot of people who ate to live,” Meyer told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a recent episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer.”

Meyer added that “today, there’s a whole lot more people who live to eat.” With quality fast food now an accepted standard — trying to turn back the clock is like “trying to put the cork back into a champagne bottle,” he said.

The restaurateur is also the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, which owns famous spots like Gramercy Tavern, and the Blue Smoke chain.

No more ‘captive audiences’

Meyer lamented the days when you couldn’t find anything good to eat in places that had what Meyer called “captive audiences.” Those include freeways, airports, hotels, or ballparks, where it isn’t easy to travel for other potential food options.

“I think what people are now saying is, ‘hold on.’ You're charging me a lot of money to go to the ballgame, to get into the museum, or to stay at the hotel,” Meyer told Serwer.

“And rather than looking at food as something that you did just because you had to, you better make food that is just as good as the meal I had last night at my favorite restaurant,” he added.

That strategy hasn’t been bad for Meyer’s bottom line, either. He operates many of his restaurants at sports arenas like Citi Field, Saratoga Race Course, and Nationals Park.

The Shake Shack at Citi Field, where the New York Mets play, often sees snaking lines. The Mets sit near the bottom of the National League — but at least a good burger can be part of the fan experience.

The final, and most captive audience according to Meyer, are those who are incarcerated.

“We haven't yet gotten to the ultimate captive audience, which is prisons,” he said. “But I wouldn't be shocked if someday that happens.”

Calder McHugh is an Associate Editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @Calder_McHugh.

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