Steak ‘n Shake: The History of Hamburger Restaurant Chains

Steak 'n Shake: The History of Hamburger Restaurant ChainsSteak ‘n Shake has been serving up Steakburgers since 1934. The company was started by Gus Belt in Normal, Illinois when he realized his original idea of a gas station with a restaurant serving hot chicken and beer was nothing new. Normal, Illinois already had enough of that going around so Gus decided to do something different and, with help from some of his friends, opened the first Steak n’ Shake.

His idea was simple. He wanted to serve freshly ground steak burgers and he had a very unique way of presenting this to his guests. In a stroke of marketing genius for the times, Gus would wait until the restaurant was busy, then push a barrel full of t-bones, sirloin and round steaks right past them.  He would then grind up the steaks in front of his customers and start making his soon to be famous Steakburgers.

Business was booming and Gus soon found that his small counter-only restaurant was not nearly enough to satisfy the hungry demand of Central Illinois. He made a smart business move by purchasing a small restaurant chain named Goal Post which he converted over to Steak ‘n Shake. The demand for his tasty burgers was still so high that he added curb service to every restaurant. The seats were always full and there was always a line out the door.  As demand grew, so did Steak ‘n Shake. Sometime in the late 30’s, Gus sold his first franchise and the restaurant chain began to spread. 

Twenty years after opening the first Steak ‘n Shake, Gus passed away and his wife, Edith was left to take over the growing business. In 1969, she finally let go of the reins and sold the business to a steakhouse chain known as Longchamps.  After running the chain for two years, Longchamps sold most of its stock to Franklin Corporation in 1971.

By 1975, Steak ‘n Shake had grown to 130 locations throughout the United States.  Drive-thrus were all the rage and curb service disappeared.   The headquarters were moved from Illinois to Indiana, and in 1981 the company was sold to E. W. Kelley and Associates.

Steak 'n Shake restaurantsEd Kelley realized that the original restaurant concept was what people wanted, so he quickly took the chain back to its roots. The menu was updated, and food was made to order and delivered by servers with real china and flatware.  Soon the chain began serving food around the clock, seven days a week.  In 2003, Kelley passed away, but he had made his mark by successfully nurturing the restaurant chain until it was more than double its original size.

In April 2010, shareholders approved a proposal to change the name of the company to Biglari Holdings Inc., after the current chairman Sardar Biglari.  Later in the same year, the company debuted a new prototype restaurant that harkened back to earlier versions, complete with visible grills and milk shake fountains. 

Steak 'n Shake SteakburgerSteak n’ Shake restaurants are decorated like a 50s diner, with chrome and red accents.  The menu combines quality Steakburger’s with other diner favorites like chili and ice cream milkshakes. The basic Steakburger also comes in a variety of premium flavors like the Spicy Chipotle Steakburger and the Western BBQ N’ Bacon Burger.  Steak hot dogs, chicken fingers and other sandwiches round out the menu.

Steak n’ Shake remains popular among dedicated burger fans because of their tasty, generously portioned burgers and quality toppings. The possibility of ordering a delicious chocolate, cookie dough or vanilla milkshake with your burger helps too. The chain continues to grow, and currently operates nearly 500 Steak ‘n Shake restaurants in 22 states.