The Other Big Debut

Americans love hamburgers, ordering 9.5 billion in restaurants in 2009. But that doesn’t explain the overwhelming response to the Las Vegas debut of Steak ’n Shake.

When the diner-style fast-food restaurant opened in the South Point at 11 a.m. Dec. 16, people who had been waiting in line for more than three hours rushed in to get their first taste of the chain’s famous Steakburgers and “hand-dipped” milkshakes. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman joined South Point owner Michael Gaughan for the opening.

About 1,300 customers visited the restaurant on opening day (consuming nearly as many Steakburgers) before it closed at midnight. The wait to get in was more than an hour all day. Customers lined up again the next day, and business remained brisk throughout the opening weekend, a spokesman said.

The Las Vegas restaurant is the first Steak ’n Shake to open west of Texas. The chain was founded in Normal, Ill., in 1934, and most of its 500-plus franchises are in the Midwest and Southeast.

Kathy Durr, whose first job was as a carhop at the Steak ’n Shake in Pekin, Ill., recommended the Chili Mac with extra sauce as she waited in line at the South Point. Despite having just had a Steakburger three weeks earlier in a trip back to the Midwest, she was in line for another taste. “It’s just an icon from back home from my teen years,” she says. “And the food’s great.”

For some people, the arrival of Steak ’n Shake overshadowed the other big opening last week: the Cosmopolitan. After all, there are plenty of places to sleep and gamble in Las Vegas, but there’s only one place to get a Steakburger.

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