Steak 'N Shake turmoil: Galesburg restaurant's finances, link to violence investigated

Tom Martin
Galesburg Register-Mail
A police car sits in the parking lot of the Steak 'N Shake on Henderson Street in Galesburg after corporate ownership took the restaurant away from local franchisee Delores Cantu.

Editor's Note: On Saturday, the Steak 'N Shake dining room reopened and the police car is gone.

GALESBURG — Five days (Thursday) after corporate Steak 'N Shake took its Galesburg restaurant away from a local franchisee, the restaurant remains open only to drive through traffic during limited hours with a squad car in the parking lot.

A member of the Steak 'N Shake corporate office, Daniel Bort, called Galesburg Police on Saturday morning and explained that corporate was taking over the restaurant at 1066 N. Henderson St. and needed police assistance because of safety concerns.

Bort said franchisee Delores Cantu of Galesburg owes the company approximately $126,000 "between fraudulent deposit slips and other miscellaneous money shortages."

Family members banned from restaurant

At the Steak 'N Shake on Saturday morning, Bort told Cantu about the fake deposits and explained the corporation would be removing her, along with the rest of her family and a majority of Cantu’s employees from the restaurant.

“Certain members would be banned from coming onto the property in the future,” Bort told Cantu, according to the police report.

Cantu said she didn’t make all the deposits for the business. She then grabbed a few of her personal belongings and left the business without incident.

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Corporate Steak 'N Shake on Saturday took back the restaurant from the local franchisee saying it is owed $126,000.

Meanwhile, Bort was having a locksmith change the locks on the doors and arranging security for the restaurant.

Police presence helps employees feel safe, prevents damage

According to the report, Bort wanted a police presence to help employees feel safe and to keep damage from happening to the business from former employees or other family members of Cantu family.

On Thursday morning, an off-duty Galesburg police officer remained in a squad car watching the empty restaurant, which offers drive-thru hours from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. but for now keeps the doors closed to customers.

Police Chief Russ Idle explained that Steak 'N Shake hired off-duty city officers to provide security for the restaurant.

"Steak 'N Shake is compensating officers for their time," Idle said Wednesday. "No city tax dollars are being used to do this."

No incidents have been reported at the restaurant since Saturday.

Steak 'N Shake has only been open to drive-thru customers since corporate took back the restaurant from the local franchisee.

Future of restaurant uncertain; corporate Steak 'N Shake won't respond

Questions about the future of the popular restaurant remain unanswered. Repeated calls by The Register-Mail to Steak 'N Shake's corporate office in Indianapolis Wednesday and Thursday have yielded no response.

On Wednesday, Knox County State's Attorney Jeremy Karlin confirmed the investigation into the alleged fake deposits.

"The state's attorney's office is investigating financial impropriety at Steak 'N Shake for possible criminal prosecution as well as any link to alleged criminal activity of other Cantu family members," Karlin said.

The Cantu family has been connected to violence in the Galesburg area.

On Aug. 22, Knox County Deputies arrested Theresa Cantu, Nathan Cantu, Rey Cantu and Jacques Johnson in Wataga. All four were wanted on multiple outstanding warrants. The FBI Task Force and Galesburg police helped with the operation.

  • Theresa Cantu, 25, of Galesburg was arrested on warrants for aggravated battery in a public place ($60,000) and failure to appear ($20,000).
  • Nathan Cantu, 19, of Wataga was arrested on warrants for aggravated assault/discharge of a firearm ($500,000); criminal damage to property ($10,000); criminal damage to property and violation of an order of protection ($100,000); aggravated fleeing/eluding ($150,000); and failure to appear ($100,000).
  • Rey Cantu, 18, of Wataga was arrested on warrants for aggravated assault/discharge of a firearm ($300,000), felony criminal damage to property ($80,000), felony criminal damage to property ($20,000) and fleeing/eluding ($15,000).
  • Jacques Johnson, 26, of Galesburg was arrested on warrants for aggravated battery with a firearm ($500,000), aggravated assault with a firearm ($300,000), felony criminal damage to property ($30,000) and felony criminal damage to property ($20,000).

Karlin said the Cantus who were arrested are related to Delores Cantu either through blood or marriage.

"I would go so far as to say that the four Cantus that have been arrested are alleged to have been involved with a series of shootings and other violent acts within the community," Karlin said on Thursday. "They have been charged with these crimes. ... We intend to investigate the financial improprieties of Steak n' Shake to see whether or not their restaurant played any part in the activities of the four individuals that we charged."

More:Steak 'n Shake company removes Galesburg restaurant from franchisee; police provide security

Galesburg has long history with Steak 'N Shake

Galesburg has had a Steak ‘N Shake since 1939, when it opened at the corner of Main and Fulton streets. It was an early restaurant in the Indianapolis-based chain’s history, as it was founded in 1934. Galesburg was part of what at the time was a much-smaller chain, and by the time of founder Gus Belt’s death in 1954, it was one of 33 restaurants. 

The restaurant remained popular here as the decades passed and the chain grew. On June 4, 1973, the current location held its grand opening. Built at a cost of $130,000 ($871,400 in 2020 dollars) and employing 75 people, Galesburg then had two of the chain’s 75 locations. The Main Street location was expected to remain open until the end of a lease in the late 1970s. 

According to the chain’s corporate website, there are now over 550 locations in 28 states. 

Talbot Fisher and Samuel Lisec contributed to this story.