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.

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

Beyond Wanderlust: 30 Words Every Traveler Should Know

For those who travel, wanderlust is a familiar feeling. It’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Yes, you do need to book that flight,” even if your bank account says otherwise. Regardless of how many passport covers this word may adorn, it doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of emotions and experiences that can be revealed through the act of travel. Here are 30 travel words from around the world to keep in your back pocket as you're exploring this summer.


From the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander,” this 16th-century word originally meant a wandering journey. Nowadays, "vagaries" refer to unpredictable or erratic situations, but that doesn’t mean the old sense of the word can’t be invoked from time to time.


An Old English word that refers to something that’s both strange and marvelous. It's a great way to sum up those seemingly indescribable moments spent in an unfamiliar land.


Who hasn’t felt a strong desire to be somewhere—anywhere—other than where you currently are? That’s fernweh, or “farsickness," and this German word has been described as a cousin of wanderlust, another German loan word.


A busy street in Hong Kong

Anyone who has traveled abroad will recognize this feeling. The French word refers to the sense of disorientation that often sets in when you step outside your comfort zone, such as when you leave your home country.


Another gift from the French, this word literally translates to “drift,” but thanks to some mid-20th century French philosophers, it can also refer to a spontaneous trip, completely free of plans, in which you let your surroundings guide you.


To peregrinate is to travel from place to place, especially on foot. Its Latin root, peregrinus (meaning “foreign”), is also where the peregrine falcon (literally “pilgrim falcon”) gets its name.


Similar to peregrinate, this word essentially means to travel over or through an area by foot. So instead of saying that you’ll be walking around London, you can say you’ll be perambulating the city’s streets—much more sophisticated.


The Grand Canyon

This English word could appropriately be used to describe the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights. Something numinous is awe-inspiring and mysterious. It's difficult to understand from a rational perspective, which gives it a spiritual or unearthly quality.


The young and the restless will want to incorporate this word into their lexicon. The adjective refers to those who are constantly moving from place to place—in other words, a nomadic existence. It stems from the Greek word peripatein (“to walk up and down”), which was originally associated with Aristotle and the shaded walkways near his school (or, according to legend, his habit of pacing back and forth during lectures).


You’re alone in a forest. It’s peaceful. The sun is filtering through the trees and there’s a light breeze. That’s waldeinsamkeit. (Literally "forest solitude." And yes, Germans have all the best travel words.)


In a similar vein, this Japanese word means “forest bathing,” and it's considered a form of natural medicine and stress reliever. There are now forest bathing clubs around the world, but you can try it out for yourself on your next camping trip. Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and take in the smells and sounds of the forest. Simple.


In those moments when you just want to run away from your responsibilities, you may consider becoming a solivagant: a solo wanderer.


This Japanese phrase literally translates to “a meal eaten sideways,” which is an apt way to describe the awkwardness of speaking in a foreign language that you haven’t quite mastered, especially over dinner.


A woman at the airport

You just booked your flight. Your heart starts racing. You’re a little nervous about your journey, but mostly you just can’t wait to get going. The anticipation, anxiety, and excitement you get before a big trip is all rolled into one word—resfeber—and you can thank the Swedes for it.


Taken from the French flâner, meaning to stroll or saunter, this word describes someone who has no particular plans or place they need to be. They merely stroll around the city at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and enjoying the day as it unfolds.


This could be construed as the traditional English equivalent of flâneur. Likely stemming from the Middle English verb gadden, meaning “to wander without a specific aim or purpose,” a gadabout is one who frequently travels from place to place for the sheer fun of it. In other words: a modern-day backpacker.


Sometimes, no matter how amazing your vacation may be, you just want to come home to your bed and cats. This Welsh word sums up the deep yearning for home that can strike without warning. As Gillian Thomas put it in an interview with the BBC, “Home sickness is too weak. You feel hiraeth, which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe.”


The karst peaks of Guilin, China

This Japanese word can be taken to mean “graceful elegance” or “subtle mystery,” but it’s much more than that. It's when the beauty of the universe is felt most profoundly, awakening an emotional response that goes beyond words.


Translating to “threshold anxiety,” this German word sums up the fears that are present before you enter somewhere new—like a theater or an intimidating cafe—and by extension going anywhere unfamiliar. The fear of crossing a threshold is normal, even among the most adventurous of travelers—but it often leads to the most unforgettable experiences.


Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry? That’s commuovere in action. The Italian word describes the feeling of being moved, touched, or stirred by something you witness or experience.


This Danish word refers to a warm feeling of contentedness and coziness, as well as the acknowledgement of that feeling. Although not explicitly related to this term, author Kurt Vonnegut summed up the idea behind this concept quite nicely when he said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"


Here's one for those who have a beach trip coming up. Taken from Kwangali, a language spoken in Namibia, hanyauku is the act of tiptoeing across hot sand.


A patch of wild strawberries

This Swedish word translates to something along the lines of “place of wild strawberries,” but its metaphorical meaning is something along the lines of a "happy place." Whether it’s a hidden overlook of the city or your favorite vacation spot that hasn’t been “discovered” yet, smultronställe refers to those semi-secret places you return to time and time again because they’re special and personal to you.


This Old English word describes what might happen when you visit a place like Pompeii or a ghost town. While reflecting on past civilizations, you realize that everything will eventually turn to dust. A cheery thought.


In some Spanish dialects, the word vacilando describes someone who travels with a vague destination in mind but has no real incentive to get there. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination. As John Steinbeck described it in his travelogue Travels With Charley: “It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico city but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”


Backpackers and budget travelers, this one is for you: The Hebrew word lehitkalev translates to “dog it” and means to deal with uncomfortable living or travel arrangements.


Sun shining in the woods

This beautiful Japanese word is a good one to save for a sunny day spent in the woods. Komorebi translates to “sunshine filtering through the leaves.” Does it get any lovelier than that?

28. RAMÉ

This Balinese word refers to something that is simultaneously chaotic and joyful. It isn’t specifically a travel word, but it does seem to fit the feelings that are often awakened by travel.


Translating to a “lucky find,” this French word can be applied to that cool cafe, flower-lined street, or quirky craft store that you stumbled upon by chance. Indeed, these are the moments that make travel worthwhile.


Just in case you needed another reason to plan that trip to Yosemite, here's one last word for nature lovers. The Sanskrit word ullassa refers to the feelings of pleasantness that come from observing natural beauty in all its glory.


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