Whether it's Shake Shack or Wahlburgers, it's just ground beef on a bun, y'all

Shake Shack recently opened at Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte.
Shake Shack recently opened at Park Road Shopping Center in Charlotte.

On the website for the Shake Shack chain, there’s a photo of two guys eating what I presume to be Shake Shack hamburgers. They’re chomping on ground beef in a bun. There are no singing choirs of angels, radiant beams of light pouring down or seas of ketchup parting. They could be eating anyburgers from anywhere, as far as I can tell.

Nevertheless, Shake Shack has been proclaimed the Second Coming of the hamburger for North Carolina. And it touched down in Charlotte, where, three days after the store opened, a line encircled the building on a beautiful spring day. A second one is even in the works for later this year.

Those people could’ve been doing something more useful with their time, such as attending a hardworking author’s nearby book signing. But I digress.

No ground beef in a bun is worth waiting in that kind of line, unless the burger is served to me personally by Benedict Cumberbatch in full Doctor Strange costume.

Go ahead, say it’s just sour pickles on my part because the Queen City beat out Raleigh for the coveted first North Carolina franchise (although we do have the other burger mania, Wahlburgers, which just opened in downtown Raleigh last week).

Who cares if we get the Amazon headquarters? Y’all have Shake Shack.

Forgive me if I view this event with a mustard-yellow eye. I’ve seen such sizzle flare up and die out before.

When I was a kid in Winston-Salem, Hardee’s was the place to go for burgers, not the neighborhood five-and-dime’s lunch counter or even our own backyard. The novelty of going out in the car, walking up to an orange counter and leaving with an oil-spotted paper bag was irresistible. It was burgers on demand.

In a precursor to the eat-local movement, my mother insisted on Hardee’s because it was a North Carolina company. It was the same reason that we had Texas Pete, not Tabasco, in the refrigerator. Texas Pete comes from a Winston-Salem company, Garner Foods. (Texas Pete has never been anywhere near Dallas, by the way.)

My mother didn’t care where her apples, lettuce or meat came from, but as to fast food and spicy condiments, she had definite opinions.

Then the golden arches came to town.

Actually, the McDonald’s had been around for a while, but it was across town from my house. Out of sight, out of smelling distance, out of mind — until I was old enough to listen to teenage friends. Hardee’s? Nobody went there anymore, they said. Big Macs, that’s the thing now — or, ground beef in a bun times two. Hardee’s was for losers; that became as clear to me as it was that the guys hanging out behind the school auditorium were not smoking Camels.

Although, if I’d done a blindfolded taste test of the two kinds of burgers, I probably couldn’t have told them apart.

Then came Wendy’s. Big progress in burger technology: square ground beef in a bun. We all flocked there because it was hip to be square. McDonald’s? Never heard of the place. And Hardee who?

The next national trend about ground beef in a bun keeps coming along: Whataburger, Five Guys, Cook Out. The Burger King is dead; long live the Burger King.

I have waited in lines for the new and greasy: in high school, for something called an Ollieburger, which friends said was the burger of the moment; and at the first Wendy’s in the small town where I had my first job, watching male co-workers see who could consume the most Triples.

It’s all just ground beef on a bun, y’all. Before too long, the Next Big Burger, which today is just a gleam in a businessperson’s eye, will burst onto the scene. Then there will be tumbleweeds encircling the Charlotte Shake Shack.

The burger abides.

Debbie Moose is a freelance food writer and cookbook author. She can be reached at, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
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