Steak 'N Shake in Tempe Disappoints; Nothing Like the Midwest Favorite

Categories: Schaefer

Eric Schaefer
Chili mac -- from a Steak 'N Shake in the midwest, not Tempe.
Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.

What would you do if you were responsible for the long-awaited expansion of a Midwestern legend into a city densely populated with Midwestern transplants? If it were up to me, I'd err on the side of "don't mess with a good thing."

Too bad that didn't happen this time.

I'm referring, of course, to Steak 'n Shake, one of the most vaunted hamburger joints in the eastern half of the United States, which just recently opened its first Arizona outpost on Tempe's Mill Avenue in a space formerly occupied by Borders. Known for its classic black and white diner décor, skinny cut fries, hand-dipped milkshakes, and "Steakburgers" that were smashed on the grill long before Smashburger stole the idea and gave it marketing cache, Steak 'n Shake has been one of the last holdouts on Arizona expansion.

Hell, we even have not one, but two, Portillo's. The Scottsdale Portillo's opened to lines snaking around the block.

See also: Beware: Everything Tastes Better When It's Free

Not only has Steak 'n Shake's debut barely registered with this town's sizable Midwestern constituency (it was empty when I went for lunch last week), but the franchisee has tampered with the tried-and-true Steak 'n Shake formula and delivered something far different than the restaurant that many Phoenicians have waited for since they migrated here from the hinterlands. The location on Mill is a shadow of the restaurant that millions of us have grown to love.

Can you tell that I'm woefully disappointed? It gets worse.

Steak 'n Shake is more than a burger joint. It's a full-service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with table service. For nearly 80 years, it has served burgers that are smashed on the flat-top from hockey-puck sized chunks of beef into slim patties with crispy edges. They perfected the idea of the Patty Melt, calling it a Frisco Melt. The shakes are thick and creamy. If you want a Cherry Coke, they make it on-the-spot. But the real star of the show is the Chili Mac: spaghetti noodles topped with Steak 'n Shake's own chili recipe and a ketchup-y like sweet sauce. It is a Steak 'n Shake classic. Steak 'n Shake is a classic American diner. One would think that the original Steak 'n Shake concept, situated in the heart of Sun Devil Country, would be the preferred hangout of Midwesterners, drunk college kids, and stoners with the munchies.

Except that Chili Mac is missing from the menu at our Steak 'n Shake. Apparently, the franchisee responsible for the Arizona launch decided that things needed to go upscale. We don't get Chili Mac, but we do get Pinot Noir, Red Bull, and -- get this -- the option of an "Organic Burger." Cherry Coke? You can make it yourself with one of those automated soda dispensers. And the fries? Not even close to the original formula. Someone at corporate must have thought that Steak 'n Shake "Lite" was more apropos.

We don't get table service either, not that I particularly care. We get an order-at-the-counter concept. No breakfast, no Turkey Club Sandwich or the Cheesy Cheddar, dripping with Cheddar Cheese "sauce." And the chili seasoning that adorns every table at a "real" Steak 'n Shake? I asked the person taking my order for it and she just shrugged her shoulders.

This isn't Steak 'n Shake. It's a fast food joint called Steak 'n Shake serving a Steak 'n Shake-style burger without any of the character traits that made its namesake something more than just another burger joint.

So it's no wonder that there was no line when I went today. No one even seems to know it's there. An elderly woman sitting next to me, who hails from Springfield, Illinois, asked me if I was from the Midwest also. When I said "yes" she said, "This isn't really like the one back home." And she's right. A lot was lost in Steak 'n Shake's expansion.

Give your valuable brand to someone that doesn't relate to it as part of their heart and soul, and it will inevitably be lost in translation. You might as well go to Smashburger. It's basically the same burger, and probably closer to home.

I still want my Chili Mac.

Follow Chow Bella on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Location Info

Steak 'N Shake

699 S. Mill Avenue, Tempe, AZ

Category: Restaurant


Advertisement

My Voice Nation Help
50 comments
Pamela Sidwell Hutson
Pamela Sidwell Hutson

Disappointing to say the least, miss the dinner feel but more than that I miss the chili-3 ways.....Having grown up in St. Louis when Steak n' Shake was all that, it's hard to have it be nothing special. Sad to say this "trail" store isn't going to be good enough to warrant putting in a full restaurant with everything......so I guess I'll still be waiting for my trips back to the "MO" for my chili 3 ways.....or wait I'll just go to Lion's Choice.

Greg Lautz
Greg Lautz

But you have to remember In-n-out is west coast, the folk lore of it is huge because you probably have eaten there when you were in CA or just know about it. I knew about it since I was 8, and that was just because of bumper stickers

Greg Lautz
Greg Lautz

I fell in love with Steak N Shake when a former Gf was going to school at Purdue. All I wanted when I learned Steak N Shake was coming to town was a Burger and a cherry shake. They don't have cherry shakes. # Epic fail :(

TheUrsineObserver
TheUrsineObserver

@EricShaefer:

" smashed on the grill long before Smashburger stole the idea and gave it marketing cache"

I think cachet is the word you were looking for.

bmcphx
bmcphx

I spent a large chunk of my childhood in Lincoln Illinois and have eaten at steak and shake on Woodlawn and the 55 (<-- that's how you know I'm from az) 50+ times. I was so excited about it opening in Tempe but this article deflated me, sunk my battleship, curbed my enthusiasm, etc.

Jukes
Jukes

They fancy up the menu then take away the table service?  That's incongruous.  They would have been better putting this in a place where there are a lot of retirees.  They like inexpensive food more than college students do and they would be more aware of the brand. 

Philip Chapman
Philip Chapman

Never heard of Steak and Shake?? That's just not right!! lol

Tori Parker
Tori Parker

They betrayed my trust, I'm breaking up with steak n shake; it's just not going to work out.

Tori Parker
Tori Parker

dissapointing for people who grew up on it they just made a quik little burger joint out of it to throw on mill, i did get a burger bc i was there and hungry and it was cold, id rather go to five guys

Mike Stolz
Mike Stolz

Haven't been to Steak and Shake here and won't go either. Portillo's is a different story! They are great I've been there often! It's as good as the ones in Chicago!!!

Kirk Dooley
Kirk Dooley

There are more people from Chicago living in Phoenix, than there are people from Chicago living in CHICAGO. I'm surprised somebody hasn't tried to open a White Castle down by HoHoKam Park.

Jazon Parker
Jazon Parker

limited menu...not the same as midwest stores...no diner atmosphere

Michael O'Hara
Michael O'Hara

So no Cinicinati style Chilli at all? no 3 way? No 5 way?

66rock
66rock topcommenter

Love love love steak n shake!!  I've eaten them all my life and so have my children who also grew up with it.  It is the first place we go to when returning to Midwest every year.  Last trip, two months ago, I ate there three times, first for a steak burger.  Second time for a lunch of chile mac, and last day to have another steak burger since I won't get another one for months.  Very very disappointed to read that they changed their menu and concept here. I'll go once to try their steak burger but I'll wait for Thanksgiving weekend when all the kids are together and take them including my one son who graduated from ISU. We will either all be pissed together or in heaven over our lunch!!  Can't believe the place is in the old Border store on that stretch of Mill, wrong setting!!  And beer sold at a Steak n Shake?  NO, just not right.!!  

Jeff Ramon
Jeff Ramon

James Patrick Harris- they make burgers at Portillos. It's not fucking stupid, dude. S n S is pure shit. It should stay in the hick towns of the Midwest.

Susan Scott Sedik-Barker
Susan Scott Sedik-Barker

Ouch.....I want all my favorites the way I am use to having them.....maybe they'll get the message and return to their roots. Scott

Joe Birosak
Joe Birosak

Never heard of Steak 'N Shake. Maybe there was no line because no one cared they were opening, unlike In-N-Out. People talked it up so much, but, personally, I think it sucks...especially their fries.

Lisa Lynn Nuckles
Lisa Lynn Nuckles

If there is no chili Mac, ill stick with Freddy's--when my dad comes here its his favorite and besides chili missing, it is better!

Till Anne
Till Anne

It's just fast food .. So it's no big deal. I did go in (and also tried it in the Midwest when traveling) but it is hardly worth the parking experience on Mill Ave. like I said, it's another fast food joint so that is the type of food you get there ... And definitely not healthy, but that is a given with the name.

James Doherty
James Doherty

Hopefully they haven't done away with roaches on the tables like the ones in Georgia!

Chad Barker
Chad Barker

Burger and fries were good, shake was amazing. No orange freeze shake in the menu though.

James Patrick Harris
James Patrick Harris

Disappointing. My family is from Normal, Illinois, where Steak & Shake began in 1934. We've been going there since day one. I can't understand why the franchisee would stray from the original formula that all of us want. And to the dude that said S 'N S sucks and to just go to Portillo's, that's like comparing apples to llamas. Italian beef/Maxwell St Polish/Chicago dog joint to the original midwest old fashioned hamburger & fries diner? Fucking stupid.

Eric Schaefer
Eric Schaefer

They do have chili, but not Chili Mac. I think they'll make it, but they could have had a huge opening (like Portillo's) and I think a lot of people who have waited for Steak 'N Shake for decades will be disappointed with this "version" of the concept.

Kathy Monkman
Kathy Monkman

Whaaaaat? I grew up on Steak and Shake!!! Chili Mac!!!

Marilyn Ostrow
Marilyn Ostrow

never heard of Steak N Shake...and spaghetti with ketchup sauce? eewwuuu! Sounds like something Honey BooBoo's mom would make.

Jeff Ramon
Jeff Ramon

I grew up in the Midwest. That place was never good. Stick to Portillos.

Lisa Lynn Nuckles
Lisa Lynn Nuckles

Wow--this place won't make it! I love the chili Mac. Wonder if they have the chili that comes with the platter meal.

mikegodphx
mikegodphx

That sucks, I was really looking forward to hitting this place since it opened within walking distance of where I work. Having second thoughts now, I do not want to taint the memories I have of the real Steak n' Shake. 

Barb Walters Harris
Barb Walters Harris

shame when franchisees are the first ones in line to kill a brand...

EricEatsOut
EricEatsOut

Indeed it was. Good catch and thank you. I'm firing my editor!

davelog
davelog

@Kirk Dooley Chicago Hamburger Co at 38th St. and Indian School has pretty good sliders, as close as you're gonna get to WC in the Valley.

66rock
66rock topcommenter

Note ISU, Normal, Illinois that is.

gordon.blumenfeld
gordon.blumenfeld

@Jeff Ramon Your taste in burgers is only rivaled by your lack of vocabulary..  You're as big a disgrace as is the Steak n Shake in Phoenix

66rock
66rock topcommenter

@Jeff Ramon  What hick towns would that be??  What a childish comment! "Pure shit" is that an educated phrase?  LOL   Every university in Illinois has a nearby Steak and Shake or two or three.  Two rather expensive, small colleges I can think of, Bradley in Peoria and Knox in Galesburg as well.  Also the Quad Cities has Steak N Shake, several within 45 minutes of Chicago.  Oh I forgot the Steak N Shakes in and around St Louis, you know that hick town, St Louis, Missouri?   

Jukes
Jukes

@Joe Birosak Steak 'n Shake is regional, but as the author mentioned, it's from the region hundreds of thousands of Maricopa Co. residents call home. 

katiecoolady
katiecoolady

@James Patrick Harris I went to ISU and spent much of my life in a small town near Bloomington and my Grandma took us there ALL the time!  Remember those little green chilis in the bottle?


Now Trending

Around The Web

From the Vault

 

Loading...