How Two Shake Shack Executives Talked Their Way Into Their Dream Jobs

Randy Garutti and Mark Rosati scored jobs in Danny Meyer’s hard-to-crack restaurant operation. Here’s what you can learn from their tactics.

How Two Shake Shack Executives Talked Their Way Into Their Dream Jobs
Shake Shack culinary director Mark Rosati (Photo: Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images for NYCWFF)

Have you ever wondered how people actually land amazing gigs–like, say, working for revered New York restaurateur Danny Meyer? Shake Shack executives Randy Garutti and Mark Rosati–both of whom are featured in Fast Company’s in-depth look at the hit burger chain–each talked their way into plum jobs with Meyer’s operation, and their success offers some potentially useful guidance. Garutti, now Shake Shack’s CEO, started his career with Meyer as the general manager of now-closed Indian-fusion restaurant Tabla. And Shake Shack culinary director Mark Rosati got hired as a cook in Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, one of New York’s top kitchens. How did they do it? Here are their stories.

Put Passion Before Paycheck

As a young New Yorker, Mark Rosati loved to eat out, saving up money for meals at high-end spots like Babbo and Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern, where he usually sat at the bar. “I started to get more of the bug about getting into the business,” he recalls, “because I became obsessed with how food was prepared. I could not understand how my chicken at home tasted horrible, but the same chicken at the restaurant was crispy and well-seasoned. I had friends who worked in the business, and I would pepper them with questions. I was buying a lot of books, watching a lot of TV shows, cooking for friends and family.”

At one point, Rosati attended a food-and-wine festival where then Gramercy Tavern chef Tom Colicchio–not yet a household name but still one of New York’s leading chefs–was making an appearance. “I just started gushing,” Rosati says. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love the food. And, like, that sirloin dish: How long do you cook those onions? Because mine don’t taste like that.’ He’s like, ‘Whoa. Here’s my card. If you want to ever come in and watch us cook, it’ll probably answer a lot of your questions.’”

Rosati jumped at the chance to spend time in such a high-end kitchen. “I still remember everything I saw and smelled,” he says. “When I walked over to the side of the kitchen where the guy was cooking meat, he pulled the sirloin out of the oven and he put a big old chunk of butter in the pan that started to melt and foam. He threw in fresh thyme and started basting that sirloin with that. And the smell of all those ingredients together, right there I was like, ‘I need this. I think I want to be in here.’”

Rosati went back, and went back again. They started giving him small jobs. “So I said, ‘I think I want in on this,’” he recalls. “And they actually laughed, like, ‘I don’t know, man. You kind of know what’s happening here, but I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the pressure.’ I was like, ‘I can do it!’”

To prove himself, Rosati offered to work for free. It was tough, unglamorous labor, mostly doing prep work. But he stuck with it. “I worked with the a.m. crew that works on Monday through Friday. I was in at 6:30, out at 5. And every job they would give me . . . some were pretty crazy. One time I had to cut, like, two five-liter buckets of onions. They had to be perfectly quarter-inch diced. And my hand was literally in a claw. I couldn’t even move my eyes. But I was still smiling. The chef comes over and looks and goes, ‘Huh.’ Pulls an onion and says, ‘This one’s too small, this one’s too big. This is going to burn, this is going to be raw.’ The job wasn’t done. I had to keep going, but I was still like, this is kind of cool.”

He continued to volunteer for two long months. Finally, they offered him a paying job, and Rosati found himself working at one of New York’s most-acclaimed restaurants.

Randy Garutti, chief executive officer of Shake Shack, left, and Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Hospitality GroupPhoto: Scott Eells, Bloomberg via Getty Images

Persistence Can Trump Experience

A New York-area native, Randy Garutti went to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, then got a series of restaurant-management jobs in places like Aspen and Maui. But he came back to the east coast regularly to visit his family, and at one point he decided he needed to meet Danny Meyer, who at the time had just two restaurants, Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern. “I called and called and called, and I couldn’t get past his assistant,” Garutti recalls. “I couldn’t meet with him.”

But finally the persistence paid off, and Meyer agreed to give him a few minutes. A very few. “His assistant said, ‘He’s opening two restaurants, he does not have time, he has 10 minutes.” The meeting took place in the construction site of what would become Eleven Madison Park, which Meyer created. “I remember Danny sitting in front of me saying, ‘OK, kid, what do you want?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, sir. You’re supposed to be a great guy; I just want to know how you do it.’ And we hit it off.” The 10-minute meeting stretched into three-quarters of an hour.

That informational get-together didn’t lead directly to a job. Garutti went to Seattle to work at the restaurant Canlis, eventually getting promoted to general manager. But after a year and a half in Seattle, he wanted to move back to New York, and he called Meyer. This time, it was much easier to get through. Meyer put Garutti in touch with his business partner, and that led to an official interview. “So I come across country, I’m interviewing at Tabla and Eleven Madison,” says Garutti, who was then in his mid-20s. “And they tell me, ‘You’re a good kid, but you’re not ready to run a restaurant in New York.’” That was that, Garutti thought, and he flew back to Seattle.

But that very night, he got a call. “They say, ‘We want you to come back and think about interviewing to be the GM of Tabla,’” Garutti recalls. “I think they decided they wanted to change it up a little bit. Danny basically said, ‘You’re not ready, but we think you can do it and we’re going to give you a shot. So I got the job.”

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Rob Brunner is Fast Company's features editor.

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