WOBURN - The City Council recently granted Shake Shake permission to add a walk-up customer pickup window to its proposed restaurant at the Woburn Village site.
Deeming the proposed layout change a minor modification, the aldermen at their latest meeting unanimously approved the casual fast-food chain's proposal to add the exterior pickup alternative in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
However, the council did attach several conditions to the special permit change, including the following:
• That the window can never be converted into a drive-through (which is technically prohibited for the special overlay district around the old Woburn Mall site);
• That all customers must order and pay for their food in advance;
• That Shake Shack provide a patrons with an approximation of when their meals will be ready to prevent crowds from gathering around the building;
• And that use of the window is limited to the hours of 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Headquartered in New York City, Shake Shack is a so-called "fast-casual" restaurant that serves American classics like hamburgers, hotdogs, and milkshakes.
The popular chain, one of several new eateries that plan to move into the mixed-use Woburn Village redevelopment at 300 Mishawum Road, expects to open its doors sometime in 2021. According to Burlington attorney Mark Vaughan, representing the petitioners, the new restaurant will be moving into a new building being constructed by the Mishawum Road entrance into the property.
"The petition that's being submitted is just for a window on the existing exterior of the building. They're going into Building G, which if you're coming into the site off of Mishawum, is the first building on the left," Vaughan explained.
"They're looking to provide an exterior customer-only pickup window for patrons. so if they order something online, rather than have to go into the restaurant, [they can instead go to the outdoor window]. This is just something that [seems to make sense] in today's COVID-world that we're in," he added.
According to Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen, whose district includes the Woburn Village site, she believes the pickup accommodation is reasonable in light of the pandemic.
However, she did question whether as an alternative, Shake Shack should instead consider a curbside pickup model, where restaurant employees walk-out food orders to customers waiting in the parking lot.
"Given everything that's going on, I understand the need for us to pivot and change things," the East Woburn alderman said. "If the goal is to make things safer for patrons and not just [to increase sales volumes], have you considered a walk-out model?"
According to Shake Shack representative Thea Williamson, a design manager for the chain, her company has introduced curbside service at several of its locations. However, the design team ultimately agreed the arrangement would not work at the Woburn Village site, because tenants at the outdoor market are not being assigned a field of parking spaces for their exclusive use.
"For this particular location, we don't have identified parking spaces. They're shared parking spaces that really don't allow us to adopt that model," the design manager explained.
Mercer-Bruen, as well as other council members like Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately, appeared satisfied by that reasoning as well as the petitioner's willingness to agree to a condition that would prohibit customers from walking-up and ordering meals.
According to Gately, so long as each party was being assigned a specific timeframe to grab their orders, he believed the alternative pickup option would appeal to residents concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19.
"I think you're going to see a lot more of this with people trying to keep customer's out of harms way," said Gately.
"I think this adds a little certainty and convenience for those who do use mobile ordering," later remarked Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco, who later successfully motioned to approve the request.