Steak n Shake unveils new restaurant prototype

April 9, 2010

NEW YORK—The company now known as Biglari Holdings Inc. on Thursday unveiled a new prototype for future Steak n Shake restaurants.

The restaurants will feature a roofline that references the classic Steak n Shake folding hat, along with an open interior featuring a steakburger grill and milkshake stations that are more visible to customers.

CEO Sardar Biglari said the goal is to open about 1,500 new franchise locations in the United States in the coming years. He detailed the plans at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City shortly after shareholders approved a change to the company's name. About 95 percent of shareholders supported calling the restaurant chain's parent company Biglari Holdings instead of Steak n Shake Co.

The shares now are trading under a new ticker symbol, BH, in part to avoid confusion between the chain, Steak n Shake Operations Inc., and the parent, which owns a diverse pool of investments. Biglari quickly dispatched with the vote and confirmation of a new term for the company's five incumbent board members, then took questions from investors and analysts for more than five hours.

Biglari said he couldn't envision a scenario in which he would sell the Steak n Shake restaurant chain, which he described as a key strategic business for Biglari Holdings. He said the Steak n Shake division will maintain a high-profile presence in Indianapolis.

"We're not going to be selling that subsidiary no matter what we would get for it," he said.

He said the company already has inked deals for new franchise Steak n Shake locations in Denver; Las Vegas; Richmond, Va.; and Rome, Ga.; and leaders are working on plans for a series of new company-owned stores in San Antonio, where Biglari Holdings has its headquarters. The company plans to use the locations it opens in San Antonio to sell potential new franchisees.

The 3,200-square-foot prototype will cost about $1.5 million to build, down from the existing 4,200-square-foot model, which costs $2.2 million. The restaurants still will seat about 100 people. Dining areas will be visible from outside thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass, while lifesize classic photos showing Steak n Shake's history will adorn the rest of the structures.

With the old-format stores, about 60 percent of the square footage was in the back of the house, including a large office and an employee lounge with lockers. The new versions strip out those amenities.

Those in attendance at the annual meeting were shown renderings and an animation of the new prototype, but the company declined to provide IBJ a digital copy of the materials. The newspaper purchased a single share of the company to ensure access to the meeting.

One of those asking questions of Biglari was Matt Prescott of the Humane Society of the United States, which has bought shares in several public restaurant companies in an attempt to influence food practices.

Prescott called on Steak n Shake to use at least some cage-free eggs, pointing to several similar chains, including Burger King, IHOP, Panera Bread and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, that have begun using cage-free eggs.

Biglari said he appreciates the concern but is no expert "because our breakfast business is so damn low."

"Ultimately the market will drive our decision, not a particular organization or individual," he said.

Steak n Shake shares closed Thursday at $402.05 each, up more than $9 for the day.


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