"By the Grace of God." says Norman Williams, on how The Shake Shop has survived all these years. "That, and my family. I've been blessed."
Norman Williams, and his wife Patricia, have owned The Shake Shop since 1982. They just recently celebrated their anniversary on March 1st. Prior to that, The Shake Shop was owned and operated by Norman's mother and step-father, Carie and Cyrus Smawley who purchased the business from Hicks Koone in 1971. Koone opened it as a doughnut shop back in 1939. "There's been five generations of families here" said Williams.
"I'm the owner, Trish (as Norman calls her) is the BOSS, and Jessica, Norman's daughter, is the manager." said Williams.
"Do you want to know how it got it's name?" asks Williams jokingly. It's not what you think, but when you consider it's location, the 'Ah-Ha' moment comes when he answers, "Because the building would shake when the trains rolled by." Eventually, Norman built steps down to the rails making it easier for the crew to get up the embankment. "The trains would stop here 2 or 3 times a day so the crews could eat. They came in the back door. They were a part of the family."
Back in 1984, Norman added a new kitchen, more booths and extra storage space to the original site. Recently, Norman and Trish considered remodeling the building but decided against it. The history of the building and changes made over the years are clear to see as you enter; each era is defined by a step up or some other subtle distinction and are all proud reminders of the growth and history of the past 79 years.
For some 30 years, The Shake Shop was open 24/7. "With only 6 booths and 7 bar stools, it wasn't unusual to have 100 people outside waiting to get in." said Williams of a typical weekend back then. "Following a ballgame or night out dancing, everyone came to grab a bite before heading home. Unfortunately, we had to cut our 3rd shift when the textile plants closed." Now, the restaurant is operating from 7:00am-11:00pm, Monday through Saturday.
The Cheeseburger Special and the Hamburger Steak Plate are Shake Shop's top selling items. "We go through anywhere from 1,200-1,800 pounds of fresh beef a week." said Williams. "It's always fresh, never frozen. When I was 12 years old, I ran the restaurant by myself while my folks were out a few hours each day."
When he's not at the restaurant, Norman's free time is scheduled around his church, Harris First Baptist, and carp fishing at Lake James. There, he and his wife Trish, enjoy the quiet time at the lake and the fine art of carp fishing. He's very successful and has passed his love for the sport along to his grandchildren who join them there periodically.
On why their burgers are so much better than anywhere else, Norman replies, "It's this environment, it's this building. Before I bought this location from my parents, I owned a restaurant down the road. Same supplier, same meat... it just tastes better here."
"This is the 'working man's restaurant' says Williams. "We have a lot of customers that come in with mud on their boots. That's okay, come on in." said Williams. "Back when Trish was here, people from all walks of life and far away came to see her. They just wanted to come to talk to her."
Williams states that the most joyful times for him at the Shake Shop have been the people he's met. The long time customers and employees have become family. Ms. Donna, who declined to be photographed, has been an employee for 30 years. His hope for the future of The Shake Shop is that as tourism increases in the county, that his children and grand children can continue for years to come. It is, after all, in their blood!