Cafe Society

At Colorado's first Steak 'n Shake, a lawsuit may be the least of the problems

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I stopped by the Centennial Steak 'n Shake early on a Monday evening, and after being greeted by nothing more than that cluttered, dirty host stand, I stood around for a while until a noticeably harried bus boy with a filthy apron hurriedly sat me in a small alcove in the back. Since there was no sign of a server for about ten minutes, I had plenty of time to look around the dining room.

Wadded-up wrappers and piles of food waste littered the floor. The occupants of the two-top next to me were pretty pissed that no one had brought them drinks, and they were ready to walk out. A party of six next to them had waited quite a while for their dinner, and then gotten all but one entrée. While a woman waited for the missing chicken salad, her companions finished their meals -- hope they shared some fries with her.

My server looked more nervous and harangued than the busser, and after taking my drink order -- a tropical banana shake for me, and a Hershey's Special Dark chocolate shake for my dining companion -- she disappeared into the ether. Twenty-five minutes later, a different server brought us two shakes -- a strawberry and a Heath bar -- and we told him they weren't ours. Ten minutes after that, our server brought us two shakes: the exact same ones we'd sent away before, only now wilted and melty. She re-took our shake order that she'd either screwed up or forgotten to write down the first time, and we ordered dinner before she disappeared again: an original Double 'n Cheese Steakburger with fries and one of SnS's new Jalapeno Crunch chicken sandwiches.

While we waited, I shared some of the Steak 'n Shake legal story with my companion. Local franchise owners Christopher Baerns, Larry Baerns, Kathryn Baerns and the companies they used to buy and run the restaurants (Globex Co. LLC, Springfield Downs LLC and Control LLC) are being sued in U.S. District Court by Steak 'n Shake LLC for, according to the Denver Business Journal, "breach of contract, trademark infringement and unfair competition." The parent company wants the Baernses to "de-identify" their stores and send back everything associated with SnS, and then pay unspecified damages of more than $75,000.

Steak 'n Shake was founded in Illinois in 1934 by Gus Belt, and gained popularity because of Belt's hand-dipped shakes and steakburgers, freshly-ground from T-bone, sirloin and round steaks. Today the chain is headquartered in Indiana and its 508 restaurants -- including 94 franchised locations -- are concentrated in the Midwest and Southern U.S. I grew up in Missouri, and was as big a fan of Steak 'n Shake as anyone. The brand is still very much beloved, even if the steak has been replaced with regular hamburger meat and the shakes are no longer hand-dipped. At least, not at the Centennial spot.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz