Over the recent Labor Day weekend, I found myself driving past Ennis. My wife and I both noticed a Steak N Shake sign we’d never seen before, which was a nice surprise as we’re fans of the restaurant. The sign was unusual, not only did it include the Steak N Shake logo, but also a small signature next to the company name. This location hadn’t been here the last time we passed through Ennis, which was admittedly a few years ago, but the gas station it was attached to had. Looking online there was previously an independent restaurant named “5 Corner Burgers” operating at this spot, which despite similar fare bore little similarity to the current operations. It seems that this Steak N Shake opened in 2017, which is just over 10 years after investor Sardar Biglari purchased the moderately successful chain, and began an expansion program, which would notably bring the brand back to Houston. However, Biglari’s success seems to have about run out, as Steak N Shake has hemorrhaged company owned locations, over the past few years, managing to franchise a few out, and closing many. However, this plan has backfired recently, with many franchisees not being able to endure the pandemic. In February 2021 the company nearly entered bankruptcy, until a last minute debt payment could be secured. Company management has put the blame of lack of investment in the restaurants, especially their equipment, causing them to be unable to compete with most other drive-thru chains. Honestly little seems to have been changed under Biglari’s ownership in terms of menu and service, that is until recently. As a way of keeping some locations afloat, Steak N Shake did away with waiters, hosts, etc… making Steak N Shake purely a counter service affair. As well, the menu was largely simplified to just a few combo meals, and some ala carte burgers and hot dogs, along with shakes.
Today we’re taking a look at one of these converted restaurants. The conversions officially began in 2020 somewhat as a response to the pandemic, but had obviously been tested at other locations prior to the roll-out. I believe this was the case with the Houston locations towards the end of their lives around 2019. Oddly, looking at older photos of this store, it seems that counter service may have existed here from day one due to the restrictive size of the gas station. While small, it does feature everything you’d find in a normal store. Outside the Biglari branding, which is mostly used in their fancy looking European franchises, there’s not too much out of the ordinary with this Steak N Shake. While the location may seem a bit “in the boonies” compared to their usual city digs, and I would agree. The store is not only located in a small town, but it’s on the far side, away from I-45. It does have the marked advantage of being the closest restaurant to the Texas Motorplex, and while not exactly the Indy Car team, Steak N Shake used to sponsor, I’m sure race days bring in decent traffic to the familiar burger joint.