Denver's two embattled Steak 'n Shake locations -- at 3502 River Point Parkway in Sheridan and 8271 South Quebec Street in Centennial -- were both shuttered on Friday after a bond filed by the chain in federal court activated an injunction forcing the locally-owned franchise restaurants to cease using the Steak 'n Shake name...and everything else involved with the hamburger chain.
After my visit to the Centennial Steak 'n Shake, I don't blame the company for being concerned about protecting its name -- the food was bad and the service was worse.
Local franchise owners Larry, Katherine and Chris Baerns have been ordered to stop running the restaurants as Steak 'n Shakes and to strip all identifying markers from the stores -- including new paintjobs. The company had voided the franchise agreement with the Baernses in June and then sued the franchisees in July, alleging that their stores overcharged customers, strayed from national pricing requirements and ignoring advertising promotions.
The Baernses's side of the story is that the attempt by corporate to terminate the franchise agreement is a retaliatory reaction against the Denver franchise owners for "daring to raise questions about the fairness of the corporate policies." They say they should be able to set their own menu prices due to higher-than-average food costs here in Denver compared to other parts of the country, and they claim their prices and menus had been approved by corporate. They also claim that Steak 'n Shake corporate misrepresented how much money they could make from their restaurants.
While all those legal fights move through the courts, last week a judge approved the national chain's request for an injunction to stop the Baernses from running Steak 'n Shake restaurants.
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've been a huge fan of Steak 'n Shake since I was a sprout, growing up in the Midwest and chowing down fat, melty-cheese capped burgers and slurping on thick, hand-dipped shakes. After my abysmal meal at the Centennial store, where I was greeted by a dirty host stand and dining room, then after a very long wait got about half my order, including wilted shakes and a desiccated burger, I'm not at all inclined to feel bad about the Denver stores being canned. If operators can't provide basic good food and service to paying customers, then they have no business running restaurants, chain or otherwise.
This may not be the end of Steak 'n Shake restaurants in the Mile High City forever, but as of right now, there's nothing shaking in Denver.
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