Steak n Shake was founded in 1934 in Normal, Illinois. Gus Belt, the founder of Steak n Shake, was a quality restaurateur who owned a restaurant/gas station called Shell's Chicken. Central Illinois had plenty of chicken and beer restaurants so Gus soon realized he needed to be unique and different. With a little help from his friends, he started Steak n Shake in February of 1934.
The Steak stood for STEAKBURGER™ sandwich. Gus would wait for the busiest time in his counter-only restaurant, wheel in a barrel of steaks (including round steak, sirloin steak, and T-bones) and grind the steaks into burgers right in front of the guests. Hence, the origin of the famous
slogan "In Sight It Must Be Right."
The STEAKBURGER™ sandwich is still the finest burger served anywhere in the world-the finest of steaks ground into pucks, and through the art of grilling on a very hot grill, turned into a burger beyond comparison.
The Shake in Steak n Shake refers to a creamy, real-milk, hand-dipped Milk Shake that has endured as the best Milk Shake on the planet. Gus Belt used to put the Multi-Mixers Shake machines in the windows of his restaurant so cars driving by had to stop for a Milk Shake.
Steak n Shake had to make changes in order to accommodate their ever increasing demand for the high quality food served on glass and china at reasonable prices by friendly servers. His first move was to purchase a chain of restaurants in Central Illinois called "Goal Post" and convert them to Steak n Shakes. He then added curb service because every restaurant had a never ending line to occupy one of the coveted seats.
Demand became greater and greater and soon Gus expanded to Galesburg in 1939. He also sold his first franchise in the late 30's. St. Louis, Indianapolis, Northern Illinois, Daytona Beach, and Hot Springs, Arkansas soon followed.
Gus Belt passed away in 1954 and his wife, Edith took over the business. She continued to operate the business, and decided not to expand but rather to care for the Steak n Shake family.
In January 1969 Edith Belt sold Steak n Shake to Longchamps Inc., a steakhouse company from the East Coast. Longchamps then sold its majority stock interest to the Franklin Corporation in September 1971. Robert Cronin, as chairman of Steak n Shake, led an aggressive program to satiate the intense demand for Steak n Shake and the company grew to 130 units in 1975.
In the 70's, drive-thru's replaced the curb service. Due to intense competition and great distance between restaurants, several restaurants were closed. At this time, the corporate headquarters were moved from Bloomington, Illinois to Indianapolis, Indiana.
In 1981, Cronin sold his interest to E.W. Kelley and Associates. Because of his marketing acumen, E.W. "Ed" Kelley is considered the "modern day" founder of Steak n Shake. Understanding that guests’ needs had changed little since 1934, Mr. Kelley swiftly returned the restaurant chain to its roots, stressing the preparation of cooked-to-order food, served to guests with real china, glass and flatware. Menus were updated with melts, salads, and breakfast items. And to meet an ever-increasing demand, many Steak n Shake restaurants began to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Steak n Shake began growing again in 1990, sparked by the knowledge that a successful brand must evolve in order to prosper. By the time of Mr. Kelley’s passing on July 4, 2003, the restaurant chain had more than doubled in size. Steak n Shake currently operates over 475 restaurants in 22 different states—a convincing testament to Mr. Kelley’s drive, wisdom and business skills.