Of the many things I love about this job, the opportunity to learn something new is one of the greatest benefits. As people who relish acquiring new information, print editor Karen Knapstein and I rarely wrap up a day of work without commenting on some new fact we picked up, which is why it is even more exciting to learn new things from our readers.
Such is the case with the Picker’s List section of our latest issue (April 2, 2014). If you
aren’t familiar with our Picker’s List, it’s a way subscribers can share a bit about the items they’re looking to add to their collections, with help from fellow readers. In his Picker’s List request for vintage Steak N Shake restaurant memorabilia, Dick Wallin includes a short lesson about the history of this iconic restaurant chain.
The Picker’s List, a subscriber-only benefit, is easy to participate in. If you’re in search of a specific antique or category of collectible, send a note (photos are also appreciated) with details about the item(s) you’re looking for, and if you feel so inclined, tell us a bit about what interests you in it. Then send your request to Antique Trader Picker’s List, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990 or email ATNews@fwmedia.com. Also, if you’ve seen a Picker’s List request you can help fulfill, send your response to the requestor or drop us a note and we’ll help make the connection.
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Now, sit back and take in some interesting history about the Steak N Shake restaurant and collectible memorabilia, from Antique Trader subscriber Dick Wallin, of Rochester, Ill.
For the past several years, I’ve been collecting pieces from the Steak N Shake restaurants bearing the old logo. The chain was started in February 1934 at a combination Shell filling station and chicken restaurant in Normal, Illinois, in the central part of the state on Route 66. The founder was a fellow named Gus Belt, who believed that quality hamburgers and thick milk shakes were not offered elsewhere.
Thus the name Steak N Shake was created, but originally it also had a more impressive word added; “Whitehouse” in large cursive lettering appeared just above the circular SnS logo. Gus felt the word “white” implied cleanliness.
The first Steak N Shake dishes also included the Whitehouse wording above the SnS name on a small black circle. But Gus soon found patrons were referring to the restaurant simply as Steak N Shake, and thus eventually dropped the “Whitehouse” moniker. Just when the Whitehouse name was dropped is unknown, but a 1937 menu bears the Whitehouse logo. It shows SnS in six cities – “steak hamburgers” were 10 cents each!
After the Whitehouse was dropped, the logo was still the black circle with the name in white, but two black lines were added on each side of the circle. Just how long that logo lasted is open to conjecture, as pieces exist showing date codes into the 1950s.
Later, a friend of Gus suggested a “winged” logo, apparently based on the logo of the Stutz Automobile Company. That logo, essentially unchanged, remains in use today.
Interestingly, the old logo pieces include butter pats and individual creamers, items usually found only in upscale restaurants, but not hamburger joints. These are an example of Gus’ penchant for distinguishing his eateries as being a “cut above the rest”! These early logo pieces come from Shenango China Co. of New Castle, Pa., and bear their distinctive seated Native American logo.
I am trying to find as many different pieces of the old logo china as I can. Apparently no records exist from Shenango, so just what pieces were produced is unknown. Maybe there is an individual size coffee or teapot; if so, I’d love to have one of those. But that is what makes the collecting fun – not knowing what exists! I’d be happy to hear from other collectors, even to just know what you have. I’ve got some spares to trade, also.
Thanks for reading and happy collecting!
— Dick Wallin
P.O. Box 22
Rochester, IL 62563