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Closing of a hangout has teens all shook up

The Steak n Shake on S Dale Mabry Highway will close while a new one is built. Plant students are already jonesing.

By MICHAEL CANNING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 8, 2002


As if a teenager's life could be more bleak.

First, Plant High School students put up with months of construction on campus this year and last. Now the Steak n Shake across the street, a South Tampa landmark, is shutting down for a while, beginning sometime this spring.

Inside, the news hits hard.

"It is?" chimed a cluster of Plant freshman girls filling two tables on Tuesday. "Nuh-uh!"

"No! I didn't hear that," said junior Summer Gonzalez.

There are other places where sophomore Richard Callahan could eat after school, but, "I'll probably just wait until I get home," he said.

Corporate headquarters taketh away, and corporate headquarters giveth back. A new and improved Steak n Shake will be built in its place.

Open since 1965, the 2315 S Dale Mabry Highway link in the Indianapolis-based fast food chain is too small and outdated, according to store manager Pat Daorai.

"We need to take care of our customers better," Daorai said.

Steak n Shake marketing Vice President Vick Yeandel says the new restaurant will be the company's latest prototype, with 3,800 square feet and 97 seats, up from 60. He said completion is tentatively scheduled for late June.

The old overhang behind the restaurant, a relic from days when Steak n Shake offered curbside service, won't be replaced. Yeandel said the company phased out curb service by the early '70s.

"We still have restaurants that do curb service, but it's almost out of tradition (rather) than for consumer needs."

But this Steak n Shake will still carry the company's distinctive nostalgic vibe from American fast food's frontier days, courtesy of its signature black and white tile work and red neon accents.

The current restaurant will be kept open as long as possible, but come construction time, Yeandel and Daorai estimate there will be at least a month of no Steak n Shake or its signature Steakburgers.

This is where life could disintegrate like a soggy bun, at least for the collection of Plant students that congregated at Steak n Shake one recent afternoon after school.

"This is the only Steak n Shake I ever knew of," Summer said while waiting at the counter for her order, a "double cheeseburg... or double Steakburger," she said, catching her lapse in Steak n Shake nomenclature, "with fries."

Richard comes here every day with a large group of friends. It's where he catches his carpool. "It's going to be tough. This is the place we always go no matter what." "I come here, like everyday, twice," said freshman Liz Cordell.

She and her friends chatted and shared an order of fries. They feel comfortable enough in the restaurant that some days they don't bother to order.

"Sometimes we just come in here and sit down with our friends," Cordell said.

Freshman Tristan Tozlosky drops in, even though she gave up fast food for Lent. "But is it considered fast food if you come inside and not go through the drive thru?" she wondered aloud.

The promise of a bigger and better Steak n Shake wouldn't placate freshman Donya Shalhoob. During the construction, "I think that they should, like, put Steak n Shake in a cart at our school," she said, drawing a round of laughs from her friends.

-- Michael Canning can be reached at (813) 226-3408 or canning@sptimes.com.

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