HIDDEN GEMS, WYOMING’S BEST EATS: Historic Shell Store Boasts Best Burgers, Bustling Bakery
- Published In: Hidden Gems: Wyoming's Best Eats
- Last Updated: Aug 31, 2023
A customer enters the Shell Store Taphouse & Kitchen through a door under the historic building’s original sign, dating from the 1890s. (Wyoming Truth photo by Ruffin Prevost)
By Ruffin Prevost
Special to the Wyoming Truth
SHELL, Wyo. — Throughout its 125-year history, the Shell Store has served as a general store, a lodge, a private residence and storage space. First opened as a place to buy canned goods, fabric, corsets and saddles, patrons can now stop there to pick up monofilament fishing line and a 12-pack of hard seltzer while charging their electric vehicle.
Since April 2020, the Shell Store Taphouse & Kitchen has also been a place for the approximately 85 residents of the remote ranching community of Shell to gather for coffee and a pastry, or grab convenience items like snacks, drinks and sundries.
It also has the best burgers in town. Well, the only burgers in town, actually.
Though it’s the only option in Shell for a hot meal, the Shell Store also draws customers from Cody and Greybull to the east, as well as tourists, campers and outdoors enthusiasts heading to and from the Bighorn National Forest to the west, where the next town is 57 miles away.
The counter-service restaurant, with indoor and outdoor dining, offers several varieties of burgers, and usually a chicken and pork sandwich option, along with a few beers on tap from Wyoming breweries. There also is ice cream and a rotating selection of what many argue are the best baked goods in the Bighorn Basin.
A fateful road trip
Emily Clark, 42, owns and operates the Shell Store with her husband, Kevin, 39.
The Clarks bought a campground across the street from the Shell Store in 2016, less than six months after visiting the town during a road trip from Cheyenne. Around that time, they also started considering plans for an eatery in the historic store building, she said, though they had no restaurant experience.
The Shell Store remains open through the winter, with Clark offering a dazzling array of her tantalizing baked goods during the holiday season, including elaborately decorated cookies, decadent cakes and festive cupcakes.
The main draw for diners, however, is the burgers, which are served with a side of fries and are $14.50. Among the best options are the whiskey burger, served with a homemade whiskey sauce and crispy onion straws, and the pub burger, featuring homemade beer cheese, bacon, caramelized onions and homemade aioli.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re the best hamburgers in the area,” said Shell resident Steve Helburn, who also stops by for coffee and a cinnamon roll.
Rancher Stan Flitner, who has lived in the Shell Valley for over 80 years, said Thursday is the day to drop in for morning coffee, when a group of up to a dozen regulars — “a pretty good crowd for Shell”— gather to discuss community events and catch up.
‘A pretty good job’
“They do a pretty good job, and it’s a good place to eat,” Flitner said almost grudgingly, as he couldn’t help but fondly recall older incarnations of the Shell Store, which launched as a community general store around 1896 or 1897. “They do produce a good burger.”
According to Ann Simpson, of Cody, her grandfather, Colin Mackenzie, built and opened the store as a frontier mercantile in 1897 to cater to Shell ranchers.
Picnic tables are spread throughout an expansive, tree-lined back lawn with a meandering creek to create an idyllic outdoor dining area. You may as well wander the grounds and enjoy the scenery: food is made to order, the restaurant doesn’t have WiFi and there is no cell service in Shell.
But you can always charge your electric vehicle there. The Shell Store has the only public charging station on the 130-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 14 over the Bighorn Mountains. Helburn, a board member for Big Horn County Citizens for Economic Development, spearheaded installation in May of two Level 2 chargers.
He said some motorists are stopping for a burger or lingering to shop while charging, and only one person so far this summer has charged without paying. That’s right, bring cash for the donation box when you charge up in Shell, because without cell service or WiFi, the charging station—like Mackenzie’s original Shell Store—doesn’t take credit cards.
The Shell Store Taphouse & Kitchen, 219 Main St., Shell, Wyoming; (307) 765-2322. Store open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Grill open at noon Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Monday. Shell Store Fall Festival, featuring hay rides, face painting, live music by Kalyn Beasley and more on Oct. 7 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.