It's lunchtime and a steady stream of vehicles cruises slowly past Centennial's shuttered Steak 'n Shake. “Do you know when they're going to open back up?” one driver asks.
“I can't wait to get my hands on a Steakburger,” another man says while stopping to read signs posted in the restaurant's front window.
Clearly, Steak 'n Shake is a restaurant with a strong local following.
But since September, Steakburger devotees have had to drive to Colorado Springs to get their itch scratched.
That's because a dispute between the local franchisee and the company's corporate office led to the closure in September of Steak 'n Shakes in Centennial and Sheridan.
But last week, the company announced its Centennial and Sheridan restaurants will reopen in late November.
“The company is designing a marvelous grand reopening,” Steak 'n Shake said in a written statement.
“Steak 'n Shake's goal is to serve high-quality food at the same great value throughout the country."
Steak 'n Shake corporate will directly manage the Centennial and Sheridan restaurants.
The restaurants in Centennial and Sheridan have been in the headlines recently, shuttered the past two months and now tangled in lawsuits after the franchise owner ignored a corporate directive and charged higher prices for certain menu items.
The two metro-area Steak 'n Shake franchises are owned by Kathryn and Larry Baerns and their son Christopher.
The Baernses opened Colorado's first Steak 'n Shake in Centennial in 2011, investing a reported $4 million to secure a 20-year lease as well as the option to open as many as a dozen Denver-area franchises.
But in September of this year, a judge ordered them to stop operating under the Steak 'n Shake banner. The reason: the ongoing disagreement over pricing.
At one point, the dispute prompted Steak 'n Shake's corporate office to cut off the computerized cash register system necessary to operate the Baernses' franchises.
This summer, a Denver judge stepped into the fray and granted the Baernses a temporary restraining order, forcing the company's corporate office to bring the Centennial and Sheridan restaurants back online.
But after the restraining order expired in early September, the corporate office once again withdrew its technical support and the Baerns family was forced to close their restaurants again.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore ruled the Baernses could still operate restaurants in their two leased locations but the stores could no longer appear to be associated in any way with Steak 'n Shake.
While the two parties remain embroiled in court proceedings, Steak 'n Shake's franchisee agreements reportedly allow the company to assume franchise leases in certain situations.
Although the Baernses' lawyer did not respond to interview requests, in earlier media coverage of the dispute, the Baernses claimed to be losing money because of additional labor and supply costs the corporate office failed to disclose during initial contract negotiations.
Steak 'n Shake officials have yet to comment on the lawsuits involving the Baerns family.
The company's senior vice president of marketing, Jim Flaniken, said in a media release issued last week: “We are delighted to bring an authentic Steak 'n Shake experience to the Centennial and Sheridan locations (and) are committed to providing a consistent experience across the country. No matter where Steak 'n Shake fans enjoy their meals, they can be assured they are receiving the highest quality Steakburgers and milkshakes.”
The Centennial and Sheridan restaurants, which are located at 8271 S. Quebec Street in Centennial and 3502 River Point Parkway in Sheridan, will operate 24 hours a day after reopening.
The company is in the process of hiring as many as 140 new employees at both metro-area locations, and former employees can apply.
Steak 'n Shake, owned by Indianapolis-based Bilgari Holdings, was founded in 1934. Today, the company operates more than 500 restaurants, many located in the Midwest and South.