Since opening in 1974 as a drive-in-meets-bar-meets-dive with a 1936 Chevrolet showcased on the original hydraulic grease rack, Quaker Steak & Lube has likely never been accused of being unoriginal.
The casual chain with a cult following made a name for itself with wings, drinks, and entertainment value by offering multiples bars and space for cars, trucks, and bikes to pull up and get comfortable at the Lube.
John Ponczoch, senior vice president of foodservice operations for the TA Restaurant Group, which acquired the 50-unit chain for about $25 million in 2016, says the Lube is a restaurant built for gatherings, with that entertainment value setting it apart from other chains.
And now it’s built for quick-service audiences as well.
The chain’s second unit in Indiana opened in Gary this month, the first Express model for the brand. The quick-service offering is the first of its kind and will showcase new signage, a redesigned in-store concept, and scores of Lube favorites that fans will recognize. The menu will include jumbo bone-in wings, grilled boneless wings, breaded boneless wings, and fried chicken, as well as steak sandwiches, half-pound steak burgers, salads, wraps, shrimp, mac & cheese, and a variety of side items. The seating will be food-court style with tables and booths fit for more than 110 customers, with six wall-mounted TVs.
“We are excited to bring this new walk-up concept of The Lube to professional drivers, motorists, and the Gary community,” Bruce Lane, vice president of Quaker Steak & Lube, says in a statement. “We understand that eating great tasting food that is served quickly is a priority for those who are dining on-the-go. Quaker Steak & Lube Express combines quick service with food and flavors guests won’t find anyplace else on the highway.”
The Lube has plenty more in store for the Express concept. In the coming months, Quaker Steak & Lube plans to roll out online ordering and pickup, as well as a full breakfast menu. Guests can also purchase bottled sauces as well as gift cards that can be used at the 50 or so full-service locations around the nation.
Certainly, this new-look Quaker Steak & Lube might not be the restaurant that founders George "Jig" Warren and Gary "Mo" Meszaros envisioned when they opened the original Lube location in an abandoned gas station in downtown Sharon, Pennsylvania. But it is a sign of the concept’s revitalized potential since Quaker Steak & Lube faced down bankruptcy in 2016.
In November 2016, Quaker Steak & Lube began proceedings for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The brand was estimated to be liable for as much as $10 million owed to hundreds of creditors. Wells Fargo claimed the brand had defaulted on more than $4 million in commercial loans and hadn’t made a payment in over a year. At the same time, however, TA, a division of TravelCenters of America, announced an agreement was in place to acquire the chain for about $25 million.
TA funneled $5 million into capital improvements across more than a dozen locations, improving everything from flooring and fire codes to restrooms and plates and silverware. Read more about the revitalization here.
In addition to locations being spruced up, the menu at the Lube got a second look. More international flavors and spices were implemented to accompany the brand’s classic wings, one of the brand’s staples.
And now, with a refreshed look and menu selection, Quaker Steak & Lube is back on the path toward growth.
In early 2017, the first Quaker Steak & Lube in a TA travel center opened in Columbia, South Carolina. The new full-service restaurant suggested yet again a move toward expansion for the brand, as the unit in South Carolina’s capital is only the fourth most southern Lube location, behind restaurants in Louisiana and Florida. The chain is most heavily concentrated in Ohio and its home state of Pennsylvania.
It is unclear right now how the Express model will complement growth moving forward, but it gives TA a diversified portfolio to fit the legacy brand into real estate around the country.
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