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As many fear the mass exodus of U.S. residents in urban areas like New York City, Shake Shack (SHAK) is planning to break ground on a new location as part of the CEO’s belief in an “urban Renaissance.”

On Thursday, the company announced its plan to open the Bryant Park Shack next Monday located on 42nd Street — the heart of the Big Apple’s business and tourism sector. This location will also be one of the first “small format” chains with digital, to-go guests in mind.

“We believe urban restaurants and centers are going to come back and come back really strong,” Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti told Yahoo Finance in an interview.

Even as he acknowledged a full recovery was likely to “take some time,” Garutti insisted that the city would rebound.

“We’ll come back [in] New York…[and] the great cities of America are going to come back,” the CEO said — adding “that’s how much we believe in the urban Renaissance.”

The company is making its plans as the fast food industry leans in aggressively on digital and mobile sales to offset the loss of foot traffic because of COVID-19. Last year, the company announced its digital pre-ordering and fulfillment experience, Shack Track, to reach customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the restaurant’s fourth-quarter earnings report, full-year “same-Shack sales” in urban locations plunged 27%. However, full-year sales in suburban locations saw only a 4% decrease.

“We’ve learned a lot in our suburban shacks,” Garutti noted.

“We have a lot of new formats, this Shack Track idea for us has been adding accessibility,” he said, with over 70 locations offering curbside options that don’t require coming into the store. And with theme of contactless pickup gaining steam, “We’re building Shacks where you can actually drive up to a window, grab your food, or walk up to a window, and we are actually, by the end of the year, going to build our first ever drive-thru.”

In the thick of the chicken wars

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 10: A shake Shack employee cleans and sanitizes an outdoor table at Madison Square Park on November 10, 2020 in New York City. The pandemic continues to burden restaurants and bars as businesses struggle to thrive with evolving government restrictions and social distancing plans which impact keeping businesses open yet challenge profitability. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 10: A shake Shack employee cleans and sanitizes an outdoor table at Madison Square Park on November 10, 2020 in New York City. The pandemic continues to burden restaurants and bars as businesses struggle to thrive with evolving government restrictions and social distancing plans which impact keeping businesses open yet challenge profitability. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 10: A shake Shack employee cleans and sanitizes an outdoor table at Madison Square Park on November 10, 2020 in New York City. The pandemic continues to burden restaurants and bars as businesses struggle to thrive with evolving government restrictions and social distancing plans which impact keeping businesses open yet challenge profitability. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

As the chicken sandwich wars heat up with an ever lengthy list of contenders like Chick-Fil-A, Popeyes, Burger King (QSR), KFC, Taco Bell (YUM), Wendy’s (WEN), and McDonald’s (MCD), Garutti says the restaurant chain is proud of its own entry in the competition.

“We’ve always been incredibly proud of the chicken sandwich that we offer, which has been one of our great sellers for years,” he said. “We’re expanding on that with different limited-offerings…we’ll continue that through this year.”

In early January 2021, the company launched a Korean-Inspired chicken sandwich and recently it launched “Now Serving,” a collaboration with well-known chefs and restaurants in the U.S. to unveil local, limited-time offerings.

“We’re teaming up with some of the country’s best chefs. We’re featuring women of color, we are featuring people from all types of different backgrounds around the country,” Garutti boasted, which features team-ups with cooks in food-famous cities. The first collaboration is with Houston chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly Hospitality for a Southern Smoke Chicken.

Shares of Shake Shack closed at $122.36 per a share on on Friday, while shares of the fast food chain are up more than 257% from a year ago.

Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma.

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