Steak 'N Shake's Menu Looked A Lot Different When They Opened

Steak 'n Shake is known for exactly what their name suggests — juicy steakburgers and delicious, creamy milkshakes. Chances are you've at least driven past one even if you haven't eaten there before; according to the company's website, there are over 550 Steak 'n Shake restaurants spread out across 28 states. Burgers and shakes are definitely their top business, too. Apparently, Steak 'n Shake serves over 110 million burgers, 80 million orders of fries, and 60 million milkshakes every year.

But while Steak 'n Shake might be doing a major burger business these days, that wasn't always the case. In fact, in its earliest stages, burgers weren't even on the menu. According to Mental Floss, the founders of Steak 'n Shake, Gus and Edith Belt, originally ran a gas station and fried chicken restaurant in Normal, Illinois. During the Great Depression, you could get fried chicken, French fries, and coleslaw for just 45 cents at the Belt's Shell gas station, and add on a beer for an extra 9 cents. However, when the town council voted to ban the sale of alcohol, the Belts needed to come up with a new business plan.

How Steak 'n Shake started selling burgers

According to RestaurantNews, Normal already had plenty of restaurants specializing in fried chicken, so the Belts decided to take their store in a different direction. Steak 'n Shake (and their infamous steakburgers) was born in 1934, starting with a small, counter-only restaurant. According to Thrillist, speed was a priority in the restaurant's early years, with Gus wanting burgers delivered to customers just five minutes after they placed their order.

Though speed was a goal, quality was too, which is where the chain's beloved steakburgers came in. According to Mental Floss, hamburgers were considered low quality in the 30s, especially since there weren't strict health codes back then. Gus wanted to prove the quality of their burgers to customers, so it was common for him to wait until the restaurant was full and then wheel in a cart filled with steaks to grind in view of customers. They also created an open kitchen so patrons could watch their burgers be cooked, leading to Steak 'n Shake's slogan "In Sight It Must Be Right" (the open-kitchen concept is still used in most Steak 'n Shake restaurants today).

The first Steak 'n Shake restaurant was a rousing success, and Gus decided to expand by buying Goal Post (a small restaurant chain) and converting those restaurants into Steak 'n Shakes. After Gus passed away, Edith took over and the business continued to grow. By 1975, there were over 130 locations throughout the U.S. Even though it had its beginnings in chicken, there's no doubt that today Steak 'n Shake is all about burgers.