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Shaking Up the Future, 1969

Three weeks ago in our time, 45 years ago in their time, Freddie Rumsen directed his bottom-of-the-bottle pal Don Draper to get off the booze and “do the work”. On Saturday, Zack Wheeler [1] did the work, which is to say he labored so hard through six-and-two-thirds innings that Howie Rose repeatedly invoked the P-word to describe his process: Pelfrey.

It took 118 pitches for Zack to not quite complete seven innings, which definitely gave Saturday a retro Big Pelf feel. The Diamondbacks wrung no more than three runs from Wheeler, but with every Met not named David Wright [2] or Curtis Granderson [3] merely tickling Josh Collmenter [4] — and nobody’s bat even gently brushing against the uniforms of three Arizona relievers — three might as well have been thirty [5].

And Don? The last time we checked in from here [6] on the Mad Men universe, it was April 22, 1969, and we kvelled from learning just what a Mets fan our favorite exiled creative director was. He’d retacked Lane Pryce’s pennant to his office wall; he invited recovering alcoholic Freddie to Shea; he belted out an inebriated chorus or two of “Meet The Mets”; and he woke up the next morning hung over but not so hung over that he didn’t think to ask Freddie if the Mets won the game they never made it to. (They didn’t [7].)

We haven’t heard much about the Mets from Don since then, immersed as he’s been in helping Peggy Olson craft the appropriate strategy for potential client Burger Chef. But I have a feeling that in tonight’s midseason finale, we will circle back to the true subtext of Mad Men: Don Draper’s accepting and embracing his Metsian destiny [8].

If you didn’t get burnt out on too many pitches from Wheeler on Saturday, here’s a look at one more pitch: the one I predict Don is going to make tonight to Burger Chef.


Gentlemen, you have a very successful fast food chain, and you’re in a growing field, but you also have some serious disadvantages. It’s very competitive, what with McDonald’s having taken over the “big sandwich” segment with its still-new Big Mac and Burger King expanding at a breakneck speed.

You have a good product, but I need to look you in the eye and tell you it won’t be enough if you want to last. The Burger Chef name is evocative but it’s not enduring. Not in our space age. Not when your target customer is either consumed by live TV footage of astronauts eating freeze-dried food and drinking Tang or, counterintuitively, their sudden desire to get back to nature.

Now I can’t suggest Burger Chef’s future is in space. We can’t put a restaurant on the moon just yet — I once had to break it to a very headstrong man that you couldn’t put a hotel there, either — but I think the other direction is just as intriguing for you.

You’ve probably read in Life magazine how the kids today are turning away from the cities and the suburbs and seeking a kind of authenticity in the country. The draw may be the communes and their admittedly enticing living arrangements, part and parcel of the so-called “free love” movement, but I don’t have to tell you one unassailable fact of life: nothing is free, not even love. I grew up in circumstances that proved that — but I also spent some of my formative years on a farm. I can tell you from first-hand experience that while the idea of bucolic beauty is powerful, the reality can be depressing.

You, on the other hand, can make the experience a joyous one. Burger Chef isn’t imperial. It’s not a “King” and it’s certainly not mass-produced on the scale of a McDonald’s. It’s not part of some overbearing computer-generated nightmare manufactured by IBM and leased to companies desperate to appear if not actually be modern. Burger Chef is something simpler. It’s like a Hershey Bar on a bun in its appeal. You have a sweetness your competitors can’t match, and I’m not talking about sugar content in your delicious milkshakes.

You can take that capacity to generate genuine affection and you can stake out new ground in your category. You have the opportunity to demystify the increasingly offputting restaurant experience with something that’s pure and basic to America’s roots. Your lead item, though, isn’t the burger. It can’t be. You need to differentiate. And your standard retail outlet shouldn’t be a foreboding building filled with Formica tables and plastic chairs. It should present itself as humble, communal, accessible and, above all, real.

You’re not Burger Chef. You’re Shake Shack.

People will line up for what you offer no matter what distractions are put in front of them and they will remain lined up for what you offer no matter what they’re ostensibly missing as they queue up, no matter what they might be hearing [9] between visits to your uniquely situated locations.

Gentlemen, if you rebrand Burger Chef as Shake Shack now, you will reap the rewards well into the next century. There’s a saying we true New Yorkers have amused ourselves with since 1962: man will walk on the moon before the Mets win the World Series. I know you know man is about to walk on the moon and I imagine you’ve checked the sports page enough to know the Mets aren’t that far off from joining our brave astronauts in reaching for and attaining a foothold in the stars.

I have a newer, more accurate adage for you to mull over: long after man stops walking on the moon, long after the Mets finish winning World Series and long after “Burger Chef” is little more than a faint, nostalgic memory [10] best left to the storytellers of tomorrow, everybody who populates the future will still want to go to Shake Shack [11].

I’d stake my very own name on it.