Food & Drink

Waiting in line at Shake Shack? There’s a better burger and shake (and it’s cheaper)

The double cheeseburger at Park Road Soda Shoppe is made from fresh beef, and you can get it topped with slaw (or chili) in the Carolina style.
The double cheeseburger at Park Road Soda Shoppe is made from fresh beef, and you can get it topped with slaw (or chili) in the Carolina style.

Are you still standing in line at Shake Shack on Park Road? What if we told you there's a better story — and a better burger at a better price — right across the parking lot?

When New York’s Shake Shack opened its first Charlotte location, the reaction was huge — and divided. It seemed like half of Charlotte was either standing in the lines that wrapped around the restaurant for days or was making fun of the people who were in the lines.

Meanwhile, in the same shopping center, the owner of Park Road Soda Shoppe was holding her breath and praying: How was she going to survive? Her business, after all, is the same as Shake Shack’s: cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes in a ‘50s-style setting.

Park Road Soda Shoppe inside
Park Road Soda Shoppe has a retro, 1950s feel, with black and white floors, tile walls and a long bar with stools. Kathleen Purvis

Amanda Glenn started working at the soda shop when she was 19, and she bought the business from her old boss, Jimmy Roupas, in 2014. She’s done well enough to add a second location, in Kannapolis, and has held on as Park Road Shopping Center has modernized and expanded around her.

But Shake Shack, founded by the legendary Danny Meyer, arguably the most savvy restaurateur in the country, was a different thing.

“This one caught my attention,” she says. “ ‘Wait a minute — this could impact my business.’ I expected to feel it, for sure. But in the back of my mind, I was like, ‘We’re not just the average burger place. Ninety-five percent of our customers are regulars.'”

The day Shake Shack opened, she went into work, trying to hide her worries from her employees. The fuss over at Shake Shack was hard to miss.

“They had a helicopter over it. I thought, ‘What in the world is coming?’ There’s people sleeping in their cars. I saw the line way before they opened.”

Then something happened that Glenn never expected: Her business picked up. Regulars flooded in to show Glenn their support. Some people over on the Shake Shack line gave up and crossed the parking lot, looking for a burger and fries that were easier to reach.

“In the beginning, it doubled our business,” Glenn says. “We didn’t expect that.

“That day and the whole following week, our regulars started pouring in and they were like, ‘We know how you’re feeling.’ We even had one of our customers (who had moved away), he and his wife drove an hour and a half. They said, ‘We drove here specifically to support you.’ We had so many of those moments.”

Shake Shack order
Shake Shack's double Stack burger is smaller, but the crinkle-cut fries do come with cheese sauce in a little tub. Kathleen Purvis

How does the food measure up? For a recent lunch, I went to both Shake Shack and Park Road Soda Shoppe, ordering a double cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake at both. Shake Shack gets the win for its crinkle-cut fries — the deep ridges give them the perfect balance of crispy outside and soft inside, and that cheese sauce is addictive. But for the burger and the shake, Park Road Soda Shoppe wins, hands down: The burger is much bigger, with patties that are juicy, fresh-tasting and crusty-edged from the griddle. Shake Shack's patties are lost in all that cheese and Shack Sauce.

Soda Shoppe's milkshake, made with high-butterfat ice cream, is much better, with a frothy, lumpy texture and more complex, almost caramel flavor.

Glenn has been to Shake Shack herself, and she thinks the food is good. But they don’t have chili and slaw for the burgers and hotdogs, like her place does, and she noticed that the portion sizes are much smaller.

“You can’t get a banana pudding milkshake from Shake Shack,” she says. While Shake Shack has a "concrete" with blueberry pie from Suarez Bakery, Park Road Soda Shoppe has a “secret” shake that’s not on the menu: apple pie, with a whole slice of warm apple pie blended into it.

Park Road Soda Shoppe shake
The milkshakes at Park Road Soda Shoppe are made with ice cream. The chocolate shake has a sweet, almost caramel flavor. Kathleen Purvis

It’s also cheaper: A double cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate milkshake is $15.40 at Park Road Soda Shoppe and $16.97 at Shake Shack.

The hype has died down now, as it always does. The lines have moved over to the new uptown Whole Foods (although at lunch on Tuesday, there were still enough people piling into Shake Shack to stretch out the door). Over at Park Road Soda Shoppe, Glenn is still seeing a few new faces, people who came over to Park Road for the excitement and discovered her place.

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“Why did I lose faith and think all these regular people that love us and love our food wouldn’t support us?" Glenn says. "They have.”

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Kathleen Purvis; 704-358-5236.
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