In Nora standoff, Crew Carwash battling Steak n Shake over corner property

The Steak n Shake location at 1501 E. 86th St. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Indianapolis-based companies Crew Carwash and Steak n Shake are wrangling over the restaurant chain’s Nora location, with Crew filing a lawsuit in an attempt to force Steak n Shake to vacate the site.

Crew purchased the corner property at 1501 E. 86th St. in January. In its complaint, filed March 9 in Marion Superior Court, Crew says Steak n Shake’s lease for the location ended on Dec. 31. Therefore, Crew has the right to take immediate possession of the site. But, Crew says, Steak n Shake has refused requests to vacate.

As of Tuesday, the restaurant was still open for drive-thru and carry-out service.

The dispute traces back to last year, when Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Garber Properties, through the Garber Family 1985 Convertible Trust, still owned the real estate.

As the property’s owner, Garber was Steak n Shake’s landlord at the 86th Street location. Under the terms of a 10-year lease agreement which was to run through April 2023, Steak n Shake was to pay $9,583 each month in rent, according to a copy of the lease agreement that was filed as part of Crew’s lawsuit.

But Steak n Shake fell behind on its rent in 2020 and hadn’t caught up by the end of the year, which put it in default of the terms of the lease, Crew’s lawsuit alleges.

Garber terminated Steak n Shake’s lease effective Dec. 31, at which time Steak n Shake still owed $15,381 in rent, according to a letter from Garber to Steak n Shake that is included in legal filings for the case. In that letter, Garber asked Steak n Shake to vacate the property immediately but offered to let the restaurant remain until Jan. 31 if it paid its back rent and fulfilled certain other obligations.

Although Steak n Shake did subsequently pay Garber for the past-due rent, the lawsuit says, this act did not reinstate the lease, and the restaurant was still obligated to vacate the site.

Crew purchased 1501 E. 86th St. from Garber in January. According to Marion County Assessor records, Crew purchased the 1.7-acre property on Jan. 21 for $2 million through an affiliated limited liability corporation, Dahm No. 58 LLC.

As the new owner of the property, Crew is moving forward with the previous owner’s efforts to get Steak n Shake to vacate.

Katherine Rayner, Crew’s marketing supervisor, said the company was aware of the situation with Steak n Shake when it purchased the property and intends to build a carwash on the site. “Nora is a great area,” she said.

Rayner could not predict when Crew would begin construction at the site but said it won’t likely be until next year.

In its suit, Crew is asking the court to declare that Steak n Shake’s lease termination was valid; to order that the restaurant must pay Crew’s attorney fees and other expenses, as well as damages in an unspecified amount; and to grant Crew immediate possession of the property.

Steak n Shake has not yet filed a legal response to Crew’s complaint. Steak n Shake is represented by Scott Morrisson, a Carmel attorney who is a partner at the firm Krieg DeVault LLP. Morrisson told IBJ the company was not interested in commenting. A Steak n Shake marketing executive did not immediately respond to IBJ’s request for comment on Tuesday.

Crew is represented in the case by Indianapolis attorney Michael Wukmer, a partner at Ice Miller Strategies LLC. Wukmer also declined to comment on the case.

Crew operates 37 carwashes around Indiana, 25 of which are in the Indianapolis metro area.

Indianapolis-based Steak n Shake, which is owned by San Antonio, Texas-based Biglari Holdings, counts 556 franchised and company-owned locations.

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31 thoughts on “In Nora standoff, Crew Carwash battling Steak n Shake over corner property

  1. why wouldn’t I expect anything else from this crappy Steak and Shake? so sad to see this place go downhill, I havn’t ate there in years and we used to visit at least several times a month. Now it’s Freddies or Five Guys…

    1. I’m rather shocked — BigLiar paid down his debt a bit and narrowly averted disaster recently and now is standing his ground against a business whose soapy water probably tastes better than his food…he’s trying to act like a businessman. The question is: how long can he continue?

  2. I can’t imagine a carwash on this very busy corner. Long lines backing up on 86th and Westfield on sunny days? I love Crew, but this seems like a bad fit. Plus, I’m going to miss my chili 3-ways.

    1. I completely agree, minus the chili. Haven’t liked Steak n Shake for a long time, but a Crew carwash at that location would be terrible! Traffic is already a mess there. I can’t imagine how bad it will be on weekday afternoons between school buses, cars, and kids walking home from school.

    2. Agree, this is a terrible spot for a car wash. That corner is going to be awful to navigate once it’s in full swing.

    3. It is a terrible spot for everyone but Crew Car Wash. Hence why Crew wants to be there.

  3. Echoing some of the other commenters. Between the stop/go on 86th, the Y, the nearby stripmall stores, and the high school, this seems like a terrible location for a Crew. There is one three miles away in Castleton.

  4. I truly enjoy the comments on the IBJ – far better than other publications. It is fun to see how many people have absolutely no concept about how commercial real estate, zoning, and traffic actually works – but they are so confidently wrong all the time!

    1. I’m guessing that you’ve not driven on 86th Street at Westfield in a while. It can take 20 minutes to get from College to Keystone when school is in session. Crew car washes create unique traffic flow problems. They work best as frontage to shopping centers because the entrance and exit flow into the shopping center parking lot instead of a major thoroughfare. I’m having difficulty even guessing where Crew would be able to put the exit. On 86th street, it would be less than 50 feet from the intersection. On Westfield, it would require a left turn onto Westfield, again just a very short distance from the intersection.
      I’m not a NIMBY. I don’t live near Nora. This is just a very bad location for the traffic flow of a Crew Carwash. Nora homeowners are very vocal, perhaps more than any other area in the city. They managed to stop development of a Whole Foods and a home development off 86th Street between Westfield and Keystone. Then they stalled additional development at the same site for years. The home owners raised a significant amount of money for multiple lawsuits. Opposing this use change would be easy in comparison.

  5. Closing another Steak ‘n Shake store is good for the city; get rid of all signs of that bad capitalist. People who live in the area know all the good reasons why this is a terrible location for a car wash, especially a busy one. We just left the Nora area and it was a typical school day crush in early afternoon, kids walking on sidewalks and spilling into streets, cars backed up on 86th street both ways waiting to get in line to get off 86th street and pick up a child at North Central. Westfield Blvd. had its back up too with the junior high letting out. Who is on the site selection for Crew? The dumb and the blind?

  6. If you remember, there was a car wash right next door to the Steak N Shake not that so many years ago. Mike’s Car Wash bought the property and closed the existing car wash that was there. They eventually sold that land that is now a parking lot for Sahm’s and Taco Bell. So the history is there for a car wash already.

    1. Yes in a much different era of Indianapolis, one when the city was MUCH smaller. Indy has grown since then brother.

  7. Would much rather have Steak & Shake or any restaurant remain on that site than a Crew carwash. Far too busy of an intersection for a carwash. Also, Crew damaged my vehicle and refused to do anything about it……

    1. They were awarded variances for the site at 38th & Illinois. Seems like a good bet they’ll be able to make something work here.

    2. I would ascertain those variances were largely granted based upon Councillor and Midtown written support. Two key circumstances unlikely to materialize here. I’m skeptical those grants could have stood up to judicial review, had one been filed by an interested opposing party. A circumstance far more likely to occur here.

    3. You might be right Murray. I didn’t realize they had any significant support for the 38th & Illinois site.

  8. 1.) As one commenter stated. The property to the south was once a carwash. Hmmm…
    2.) I believe the total investment from Crew will be north of $5M. Thus, I believe they know that this corner is a worthwhile investment. Possibly even more now that their membership program tracks address, usage and other data points. The data has to state this is worthy of their interest.
    3.) Northview Middle School will be closing soon, a la less traffic.
    4.) A new traffic signal I believe is being proposed in front of NC and other site improvements to NC’s central campus will be made to aid traffic flow from the school, a la better traffic flows.
    5.) The new Crew being built at the corner of 38th and Illinois sits on 55,500 sqft. The Nora proposed location would sit on 56,300 sqft. Thus, they “Crew” know how to make this work.
    6.) Time to bid Steak n Shake good-bye and hope that the dying Hardees across the street become a McDonalds and call it a day ☺.

    1. True story, Brandon: the current site of Jimmy John’s in Nora (just a couple doors west of this site) was one of the only McDonald’s sites in Indy ever to fail and close, back in the 80s. And a BK just across the street (by the entrance of Target/Nora Plaza) also went away in 2008. Somehow Hardees and Steak and Shake drove out the Big 2.

      .

      Note, the Crew Carwash near the corner of SR135 and Fairview Road in Greenwood is on an even smaller site. It has the advantage of existing internal circulation drives on the 3 sides not fronting 135, and is of a “wraparound line” design that probably won’t be acceptable to the Nora Community Council president and board. As pointed out above, Crew is not likely to get official support from the community association. And they are loud remonstrators.

  9. We could all wash our cars on our driveways at home… pick your poison: pollute local waterways or deal with some increased traffic with a top notch local business expansion?

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