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hkboyee via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
hkboyee via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

14 Sizzling Facts About Steak 'n Shake

hkboyee via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
hkboyee via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

From wholesome family dinners to 4 a.m. pit stops, Steak 'n Shake has been serving up all-American fare at all hours to generations of hungry diners. But there’s much more to this throwback chain than hand-dipped shakes, tasty steakburgers and those nifty paper hats.

1. It started as a gas station serving fried chicken and beer.

Founder Gus Belt and his wife, Edith, feeling squeezed by the Great Depression, began offering fried chicken, fries and coleslaw at their Normal, Illinois Shell station for $.45. Beer was just $.09. After the town council voted 2 to 1 to ban the sale of alcohol, the Belts decided to open a burger restaurant, and in 1934 Steak 'n Shake was born.

2. The founder was a stickler for food safety before that was a thing.


Back in the '30s, there were no uniform health codes, and hamburgers were widely (and justifiably) viewed as low-quality fare. To quell customers’ concerns, Gus Belt created an open kitchen so they could watch their steakburgers being cooked—a design that still exists today in Steak 'n Shake restaurants, reflecting Belt’s motto, "In Sight It Must Be Right." 

3. He would also grind a barrel full of meat in front of diners.

When the restaurant was busy, Belt liked to roll a barrel full of t-bones, sirloins and round steaks into the restaurant and grind everything in full view of patrons. Sadly, this practice does not still exist at Steak 'n Shake, or at any other American restaurant.

4. Gus wasn’t afraid to get dirty.

According to Robert Cronin, former Steak 'n Shake CEO and author of Selling Steakburgers, Belt used to go through the restaurant’s trash and returned plates to see what customers weren’t eating. He used his disgusting findings to further hone the menu.

5. After Gus died, his wife ran the company for 15 years.

Gus Belt died in 1954, leaving Edith to run the company until 1969, when she sold her stake in the restaurant—which by then numbered 51 locations—to Longchamps, Inc. for a cool $17 million.

6. Steak 'n Shake almost became another fast food restaurant.

CameraGirlUSA via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Under Longchamps, Steak 'n Shake began streamlining food preparation (it made shakes from a mix instead of using ice cream, for instance) to bring down costs and to better compete with popular fast food restaurants. After Longchamps sold to Indiana-based Franklin Corporation in 1971, CEO Robert Cronin took the chain back to its roots and introduced menu items like baked beans and cottage cheese.

7. Its most successful owner also gave the world Cool Whip and A1 Steak Sauce.

Steak 'n Shake struggled during the '70s, when fast food dominated the American restaurant scene. In 1981, the Franklin Corporation sold the chain to Consolidated Products, whose president, food industry veteran Ed Kelley, had overseen the introduction of Tang, Klondike bars, Cool Whip, A1 Steak Sauce and Grey Poupon. Under Consolidated’s management, Steak 'n Shake doubled its number of restaurants by the late '90s.

8. Roger Ebert was a huge fan.

The longtime Chicago Sun-Times columnist had his first restaurant meal there as a kid (steakburger, fries and a Coke) and claimed unwavering devotion the rest of his life. He gushed about the chain in a 2009 blog post: "If I were to take President Obama and his family to dinner and the choice were up to me, it would be Steak 'n Shake—and they would be delighted."

9. One of its locations is a historic landmark.

A Springfield, Missouri location that sits along the former Route 66 was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Built in the early '60s, it still retains most of its original design, including a curb service window and bright neon sign.

10. The company almost went bankrupt.

After years of losing money, the chain was sold in 2008 to Biglari Holdings, which promptly lowered prices and made Steak 'n Shake a recession-era darling. In a recent earnings report, Biglari claimed the company was 90 days away from insolvency when it took over.

11. Biglari is also the guy who now owns Maxim.

His name is Sardar Biglari, he’s 37 years old, and you probably won’t see him sitting in the booth next to you anytime soon.

12. Steak 'n Shake has a racecar, and it's co-sponsored by Maxim and owned by David Letterman.

David Grant via Flickr // CC BC-NC 2.0

The burger joint is the primary sponsor of the No. 15 Indy car this year, marking the first time that the Indianapolis-based company has been involved in the Indy racing scene. And that car is co-owned by the former Late Show host, who is an Indianapolis native and longtime racing fan.

13. Steak 'n Shake is going upscale and international.

In the past couple years, Steak 'n Shake has opened locations in Santa Monica, Dubai and on the French Riviera in Cannes. It’s planning 50 locations in Saudi Arabia and 15 in Pakistan.

14. Its seven-patty burger inspires equal parts awe and disgust.

Two years ago, the chain introduced a 1,330-calorie beef monstrosity to its late night menu: the 7X7 Burger, which sells for $7.77. Reactions have ranged from reverential to horrified to, predictably, eating contests.

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entertainment
13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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