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Mort's reinvents The Shack's tradition at MU Student Center

Sunday, January 23, 2011 | 12:23 a.m. CST; updated 8:06 p.m. CST, Sunday, January 23, 2011
David Hollander, right, a political science student, lines up his shot while playing pool with with his friend Chris Krigbaum. Referring to the game tables, Krigbaum said, "I like that it's free." Although it was Krigbaum's first time at Mort's, he said he would definitely be back often.

COLUMBIA — For lunch last Friday at Mort's, MU senior Tim Noce grabbed a “Shack Burger” — a  3.2-ounce beef patty with lettuce, tomato and onion hanging from the edge of the bun, all dripping with its famous sauce.

He took a bite.

WHAT STUDENTS ARE SAYING

"They're real burgers. They're different from dining halls, that's for sure." — Nick Marchesi, junior

"I'm happy to have this part of the student center back. ... I looked for it all last semester." — Erin Helvey, senior

"It's brand new, but it feels like it's been here." — Taylor Vohsen, freshman

"It's nice not having construction in the middle of campus anymore." — Grant Ressel, senior

"This is better than the library 'cause you can eat, too. There's no way KU has something like this." — Ben Anderson, graduate student

"The sauce reminds me of McDonald's special sauce with Thousand Island." — Ian Smith, graduate student

"The recipe has been around since what, the 1920s? Whatever it is, it works." — Eric Woods, senior

"I definitely think it'll be even more popular than The Shack. ... I'm excited to be part of the tradition." — Julia Wisniewski, junior


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“The taste is a little bit of outdoor barbecue mixed with vinegar,“ Noce said. “It’s original for sure.”

Mort’s opened Monday in the MU Student Center as a reinvention of The Shack, the celebrated campus eatery memorialized by MU alum Mort Walker in his cartoon strip, "Beetle Bailey."

The Shack closed in 1984, after more than 50 years as a popular hangout for MU students.

When a decision was made to revive the old hangout in the student center, the university wanted to bring back many of its old traditions, including the "Shack Burger" with its legendary sauce, the pool tables and the carved wooden booths.

One of the drivers behind the Shack's rebirth was Michelle Froese, public relations manager for Student Auxiliary Services at MU, who saw value in its nostalgia among alumni.

“I wanted to find a way to make alumni feel that they could connect with their own student experience in the brand new student center,” she said.

Her efforts have already started to pay off. Froese said she ran into an alumnus on Tuesday morning who was waiting for Mort’s to open just so he could eat a "Shack Burger" as he passed through town.

The Shack was always a place for students to drop by in their free time, even when it served food from a truck parked opposite Jesse Hall in the 1920s. By the 1930s, The Shack had become a full restaurant where students could eat, play pool and carve their initials into the tables.

At Mort's, students will be able to carry on those traditions in a modern context.

The restaurant contains a seating area with original furnishings from the Shack, including a table, three booths and wall panels that now make up the ceiling. 

Joe Franke, owner of The Shack when it closed, stashed away some of the initialed wood when he sold the property on Conley Avenue to MU. He said he thought the old place was something people would want to preserve — and he was right.

“It’s never going to die,” Franke said with a laugh.

Froese said customers will be allowed to carve their initials into the new wooden panels, but the original booths will remain intact.

“I think that’d be a great idea, especially when you bring your kids back and show them,” Ian Smith, a graduate student, commented.  “It’s a way to leave your own little legacy.”

Signs on the wood will ensure students do not confuse the originals with the new ones.

Though the carving tradition will continue, the old Shack’s menu has been updated. According to Froese, liver sausage and bologna sandwiches have been thrown out in exchange for chicken strips, onion rings and turkey burgers. The main item preserved, however, is the "Shack Burger," drenched in its secret sauce.

Alan Petersen, a manager with MU’s Campus Dining Services, now holds the secret to the sauce. He said he started making test batches when Franke gave him the recipe about three years ago.

He experimented with the sugar content, and after the Frankes tasted it and gave their approval, he reduced the amount.

Aside from the food, students say they appreciate a place in the center of campus to relax. Mort's has four pool tables, a jukebox and shuffleboard.

“We only need beer now, right?” Noce said. “But seriously.”


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Comments

Dan Claxton January 23, 2011 | 11:06 p.m.

Good story, Bridget. But, I'm afraid there will never be another Shack, no matter how hard they try to duplicate it at Brady. The new "Shack" looks nothing like the real Shack. Nothing. I hung out there for years, and I loved the place. I like going into "Mort's" and sitting at the old tables, but It's not like the old place, which can only survive in the memories of those of us who hung out there.

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