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A Steak 'n Shake franchise has arrived in Billings, and a bustling crowd showed up Thursday to get their hands on the chain's famous Steakburger.

The new store is at 4002 Montana Sapphire Drive, near Shiloh Crossing. It's the first one in Montana and the closest, for now, in 461 miles.

"It's an 80-year-old company with a high level of food quality," franchise owner Spencer Erwin said.

The former wildland firefighter partnered with his wife and parents to start the business. He plans on opening stores in Great Falls and Missoula in the next few years.

"I knew they were franchising, and knew they were going west, and decided to be the guy to do it in Montana," he said.

He expects the Billings store to make $2 million in sales its first year.

From the moment the doors were unlocked at noon, people streamed in. Some of them had arrived early and waited in their cars for the opening.

Anticipating the busy opening day, security guards directed traffic in the parking lot.

"Once we did the ribbon cutting and opened the door, there were people lining up," Mayor Tom Hanel said.

The diner, specializing in burgers, french fries and milkshakes, didn't have a table open by 1 p.m., Hanel said.

Ricardo Terrada, district manager for Steak 'n Shake in the Montana region, said it was a relief to see the store open.

"After a year working with this, it's a fantastic feeling," Terrada said.

Terrada lives in Bozeman and said he will manage five stores in the region, which includes Montana and Idaho. Four have yet to open.

The store is currently open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., but they plan to transition into being open 24 hours a day by summer.

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Chris Cioffi covers city news for The Billings Gazette in Montana.