Shake Shack is now one step closer to opening in Darien after formally filing applications with the Planning & Zoning Commission, Architectural Review Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.
The restaurant would be built at the former location of Chuck’s Steak House at 1340 Post Road.
Baywater Properties is the current owner of that site and founder David Genovese said that the company’s goal was to find a restaurant committed to quality food and affordable pricing.
Genovese told the Planning & Zoning Commission that his daughter Lily actually came up with the idea of partnering with Shake Shack. Baywater and Shake Shack employees presented their site plan to the Planning & Zoning Commission on Feb. 2, following up on an information hearing held in early November.
According to Shake Shack senior design manager Lou DeAngelis, the Post Road site would be the restaurant chain’s first location operating on a major thoroughfare. Designs for the site are somewhat similar to that of the Westport Shake Shack, featuring an outdoor patio and modern architecture. While the Westport location has been known to suffer from parking problems, Genovese said that those issues were site specific.
Westport’s Shake Shack was retrofitted into the location and shares its lot with other businesses who also occupy the parking spaces. Customers often choose to park across the street in the Westport Shopping Center to circumvent the tight parking situation. Darien’s Shake Shack proposes 43 total parking spaces, matching town zoning requirements based on the amount of square footage and outdoor seating. The building itself would be approximately 3,100 square feet, slightly smaller than the building that housed Chuck’s Steak House.
“Our objective in going into a new location is to tailor our design to the community and the brand design that we’ve built across the last 40 or so Shacks in the state,” DeAngelis said.
A part of that brand is promoting Shake Shack as a social space, which DeAngelis said would pre-empt any discussion of a drive-thru lane. Design manager Mary Bomba said that the outdoor patios are a typically a major gathering point for other locations.
“One of the basic tenants of our design is to be a community gathering place and the only way they can gather is if they get out of their cars,” DeAngelis said.
While the site plan is still undergoing adjustments based on the recommendations from town boards and officials, the Planning & Zoning Commission had specific questions about the design of the building itself. Chairman Susan Cameron questioned the decision to construct an angled roof with a parapet facing Post Road, and the differing heights of signage outside the building.
Cameron presented photos from Shake Shack locations in other states that do not feature the angled roof or high signage. “It looks so modern and fast food,” she said.
Bomba said that the angled design is a part of Shake Shack’s brand of design, but would also house key equipment for the restaurant’s operation. Genovese mentioned that a water wash hood system used to eliminate smells rising from the restaurant is an example of the type of equipment that would be built into the angled roof.
DeAngelis explained that the site’s location on a major roadway impacted the restaurant’s plans for presentation and signage. The restaurant has already filed with the Zoning Board of Appeals to seek approval for sign variances. Planning & Zoning Director Jeremy Ginsberg said has been working alongside the ZBA to draft legal notice surrounding the application.
“The impression that we got was that it was that it’s way beyond the [allowed] amount of signage and it was unlikely to get approved,” Ginsberg said.
While the application is undergoing some necessary scrutiny, the majority of the commission did not take issue with the base aesthetics of the Shake Shack design.
“This reminds me of the restaurants you used to see with the girls on roller skates and these days it’s out of fashion, you don’t see that anymore,” Commissioner Richard DiDonna said. “It’s very retro and I like that.”
Shake Shack’s application is an ongoing process and is subject to change as discussions with Darien’s land-use boards continue. The next public hearing for the site is scheduled for March 22.