Shaking up northern Nevada
Since 1934, Steak ‘n Shake diners have thrived in the Midwest. Now the chain is expanding in northern Nevada.
The new owners of the North Valleys Steak ‘n Shake plan to open four more locations within the next five years. They are looking at building stores in the South Meadows area, Carson City, Fernley and possibly Minden. Located at 1140 North Hills Blvd., the first store in the local franchise boasts an old-fashioned diner, take out and drive through options.
“We have competitive prices with burgers made from 100 percent beef and made-to-order hand-dipped milkshakes, ” owner Eric Vetter said. “It is a diner first, then a takeout and a drive through.”
The Reno franchise opened in 2013. Vetter and his wife Mayelen Garijo bought the business in July 2015 from the original owners and the rights to open more franchises in the northern Nevada. Katrina Lofin Winkel, owner and broker of BTI Group in Reno represented the buyers and sellers in the transaction.
The first Steak ‘n Shake opened in 1934 in Normal, Ill., by its founder Gus Belt. Belt’s motto was “In sight it must be right,” which orginated from him grinding the beef where the customers could see so they knew they were getting fresh hamburgers. These words are printed above the open kitchen at the Reno store.
“The customers for the Steak ‘n Shake fall in two buckets,” Vetter said. “First, there are the people who are from the Midwest and love the chain and then there are the people who have not heard of (us.)”
Here, the brand has to compete with similar hamburger establishments that are better known on the West Coast such as In-N-Out, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and more.
“In-N-Out has great West Coast recognition but are not known much farther,” Vetter said. “We are on the opposite end of that… Steak ‘n Shake has just started expanding to the West Coast.
“Developing the brand (in northern Nevada) will be a fun challenge.”
According to Vetter, each franchise costs approximately $1 million to start and each store needs approximately 1.2 acres of land to provide adequate space for parking, the 3,700-square-foot diner and drive through. Vetter plans to fund the additional franchises through commercial and private loans.
“We currently lease the building of the North Valleys Steak ‘n Shake but we would like to own the properties (of the other locations),” Vetter said. “(We hope to) find a good opportunity that fits us.”
Vetter was born and raised in Winnemucca and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno. His wife, originally from Spain, worked as a teacher and a translator. Throughout Vetter’s career he has worked as a director of finance at Whirlpool, vice president of business development at IGT, and president and CFO/CAO of Unwired Planet where he helped relocate the company to Reno. The couple became familiar with Steak ‘n Shake when their family lived in the Midwest off and on for about 10 years. When Vetter retired, he started looking for a business opportunity that would allow him to stay in northern Nevada to be close to his family and children who are students at UNR.
That is when Vetter learned the original owners were selling the Steak ‘n Shake.
Now, Vetter and Garijo work in the store two to three days a week. They enjoy interacting with the customers and do everything from seating customers, taking their orders and making sure everything runs smoothly.
“We have gotten to know a lot of people,” Vetter said.
They have learned a lot about running a Steak ‘n Shake from their Store Manager Mike Jones, who has worked for he company for more than 30 years and has owned his own franchise.
They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner items. According to Vetter, the average customer ticket is around $8 and the Reno Steak ‘n Shake gets between 400 to 500 customers per day.
The store offers five pages of menu items with more than 20 different milkshakes that are served in glass soda fountain glasses. They also offer seasonal milkshakes including their fall specials caramel apple and campfire s’mores.
The store currently has 40 employees and is looking to hire five more. The North Valleys location is open Sunday through Thursday between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and Saturdays between 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Many Steak ‘n Shakes are open 24 hours. Vetter anticipates that they will be able to use the 24-hour model in some of the other locations they develop such as the South Meadows location and expects they will need to hire as many as 100 employees for their new locations.
“I point out many cases of where privately owned companies do just as bad a job as publicly owned companies,” says Reno resident and former teacher Robert (R.D.) Gardner.