Shake Shack Inc. is expanding to Canada, with its first location planned for Toronto next year.
The New York-based restaurant chain made the announcement in a press release Wednesday, saying it will partner with two Toronto-based investment firms — Osmington Inc. and Harlo Entertainment Inc. — to open its first Canadian location in 2024.
The burger-and-fries chain first opened in New York in 2004 and has since expanded to have 290 locations across 32 U.S. states, and 150 international locations including London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Mexico City, Istanbul, Dubai, Tokyo and Seoul.
The Toronto location will be its first in Canada, but the chain says it plans to have up to 35 locations across the country by 2035.
“We have been eyeing this incredible opportunity in Canada for quite some time,” said Michael Kark, the chain’s global licensing officer.
Osmington is a privately held commercial real estate investment fund owned and controlled by David Thomson, chairman of Thomson Reuters. Osmington’s assets also include the Winnipeg Jets, which it acquired when the NHL franchise was relocated from Atlanta. Osmington also owns the retail concourse at Toronto’s newly refurbished transit hub, Union Station.
“Shake Shack has long been a brand that we admire,” Osmington CEO Lawrence Zucker said in the release. “Their emphasis on community building, enlightened hospitality and exceptional food quality aligns with our values and we are thrilled to be bringing them to Canada.”
Burger wars heating up
Shake Shack’s long-awaited entrance into the Canadian market comes amid a wave of U.S. fast food brands expanding to Canada over the last decade.
Five Guys, Carl’s Jr., Wahlburgers and Blaze Pizza all flocked to Canada before Chick-fil-A and Dave’s Hot Chicken headed north in recent years.
The newest entrants leaned heavily on chicken, a category that has increased in popularity as some consumers become more health-conscious and shift their diets away from red meat.
Chicken sandwiches were included in 7.3 per cent of all restaurant orders in Canada in 2020, data released by research firm NPD Group found. That amounts to 386.4 million servings.
Some 17.6 million BBQ chicken sandwiches were ordered in Canada in 2020, up 40 per cent from the year before, while 228 million breaded chicken sandwiches were gobbled up, down three per cent from the year before.
However, burgers, the star of Shake Shack’s menu, still reign supreme. They were included in 9.6 per cent of all Canadian restaurant orders in 2020, which translated to 739.3 million servings of burgers.
Canadian companies have coped with the onslaught of American counterparts by expanding their own fast-food offerings. Several added chicken sandwiches and all-day breakfast menus, while Tim Hortons partnered with pop superstar Justin Bieber to launch three new Timbit flavours — called Timbiebs — and experimented with flatbread pizza.
But drawing in customers has become even more challenging after inflation reached a near 40-year high last year, making the cost of dining out harder for consumers to stomach.
Statistics Canada’s latest data shows the cost of food purchased from takeout restaurants increased 8.6 per cent since last February.
Visits to fast food joints in Canada were up nine per cent in 2022, just shy of the 11 per cent gain they saw in 2021, NPD Group research shows.