Inside St. Louis

Ted Drewes

An original water color of Ted Drewes by local artist Marilynne Bradley.

The Tale of Ted Drewes' Trees


     On a brisk December day as you walk through the Ted Drewes forest of Christmas trees at either Ted’s Chippewa or S. Grand location, you may well hear someone singing “O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, wie treu sind deine blatter!” But more likely these days you’d be listening to one of the English translations such as “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches.” Is it Ted himself singing between spoons of his secret recipe frozen custard? It well could be, as like Jolly Old St. Nick, Ted Drewes always seems to be there assisting a joyous staff of Holiday Helpers and his beloved customers, many of whom have made Theodore Raymond Drewes, Jr’s. fresh- cut Christmas trees a decades long (since 1953) tradition.




     As this article’s accompanying watercolor painting by Marilynne Bradley deftly depicts, there’s a nostalgic magic about the Drewes’ collection of trees, wreaths and roping that made their speedy journey, in excess of 2,000 miles, from Ted’s several hundred acre tree farm in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia to St. Louis where they’re offered exclusively at Ted Drewes. In the mid-‘50s, Ted Jr’s, dad who had gained his original fame as a top tennis star, started his quest for the highest quality trees to complement the family frozen custard business as the stands were shuttered in the cold months. The Senior Ted hit the trail for the trees that would take him far off the beaten path to remote growing fields, valleys and hillsides in Canada. Ultimately, to insure quality and quantity, the Drewes family procured some of the richest tree growing land in Nova Scotia; therefore you can only get a Ted Drewes grown tree at Ted Drewes (Click here to view a 1955 article featuring a story about The Tail of a Tree, by Ted Drewes).




     It’s been 40 years since Ted the elder passed away, but his tradition of offering the best custard, the best trees and the best service at Ted Drewes is just as strong today as ever. Our Ted’s dad, who in the late ‘20s was selling insurance, got started in the custard business when a cousin, Ted Wightly, who had invented the carnival ride called The Caterpillar, told Ted that the carnival in which he was involved needed a frozen custard concession, so Ted bought a custard machine and hit the road as a Carney. Being away for extended periods was tough on family life, especially on his wife Mildred, so he came home to St. Louis, packed up the family and headed to the Sunshine State where in 1929 he opened his first, but short-lived, frozen custard enterprise in St. Petersburg, Florida.




     During 1930, the first full year of the Great Depression, Ted and family gave up on what was then a sleepy town down South and came back home to open a custard stand on the south side of Natural Bridge just west of Goodfellow, which was near their home in Pine Lawn. This was a small fifty-foot lot sandwiched between Hilbert Balsano’s Shell station and Sam Sweibelman’s watermelon stand. Unfortunately there had been a miscommunication and Ted was paying his $100 a month rent to his friend Sam The Watermelon Man when the rent actually should have been paid to another party. The custard stand would quickly close.





     So in the span of little over a year as he suffered under the throes of the depression Ted would, in quick succession, open and close two businesses. Many men of lesser mettle and foresight might have thrown in the towel, but Ted was not a quitter and he’d move father west on Natural Bridge to Normandy where he opened another location. Today that spot is the site of a U. S. Postal Service branch. His next location would be on the other side of the St. Louis map when he set up a custard machine in a small frame building at 4224 S. Grand just a short block from the Red Castle; Cleveland High School. Today that venerable location remains a Ted Drewes stand. 10 years later, in ’42, they’d open at 6726 Chippewa on The Mother Road, Route 66 - and the rest is living history.




     Ted’s wife, as many know, is Dottie, and Dottie has become famous both for her Dottie sundae, which is a mix of mint, chocolate and custard as well as for the Dottie tree. She created the sundae, about which Ted initially had his doubts, and he created the tree. It happened when Ted was so busy on the tree lots that he neglected to bring a tree home and on the night before Christmas there were a handful of scrawny trees remaining with the exception of one extra beautiful bushy tree that he was all set to take. That’s when Dr. Nicholas Correnti who lived nearby on Itaska Ave. rushed onto the lot and told Ted he needed a tree. The good doctor selected Dottie’s. Ted was about to say it was already spoken for, but since Dr. Correnti was the obstetrician who delivered Ted and Dottie’s babies, he was the one who ended up with Dottie’s tree. That year Dottie reluctantly, but with understanding, had to trim a Charlie Brown type tree. She got a promise from Ted that it’d never happen again, and if you know Ted, you know his word is good as gold. So next year he selected the best of the crop and marked it with her name…but just to be on the safe side he found a similar high quality specimen and also marked it as a Dottie tree, in case one would get sold by accident.




     As word spread that these Dottie trees were extra special, customers started asking for them. So, to keep the customers satisfied, Ted, when he’d make his annual Nova Scotia treks, would instruct the woodcutters to mark all the best of the best of the trees as Dottie trees. As Paul Harvey would say: “Now, you know the rest of the story.” So dear reader of Inside St. Louis, rest assured that your tree from Ted’s will be as good or better than those used in 16th century Germany when the tradition of the Christmas tree began. And just in case you’re wondering, it was in the 1830s, in Pennsylvania, that the first Christmas trees were displayed in America.  By 1846, after Queen Victoria and German born Price Albert popularized Christmas trees in England, the concept fully blossomed in The States and has never waned. Now if we could just find someone to decorate the tree like Dudley, the angel played by Cary Grant in the movie “The Bishop’s Wife”, it’d make for an even happier holiday. Until that happens, I’m off to supervise the stringing popcorn, untangling of the strands of lights, filling the branches with tinsel, hanging ornaments, putting water in the stand and dropping in an Aspirin. Then we’ll be prepared to enjoy our fresh Ted Drewes tree in all it’s glory into January.




     As writer Francis P. Church stated many years ago: “Yes, there is a Santa Claus! He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist….”. I guess we could say the same about Ted Drewes.




     P.S. While you’re at Ted Drewes on Chippewa take a look at the holiday display in the window of Catholic Supply in the old Biederman’s store on the NE corner of Chippewa and Jamieson.



Written by: Ron (Johnny Rabbitt) Elz of KMOX and Channel  5’s Show Me St. Louis.

Click here to view the images from Ted Drewes during Christmas time.

Click here to learn about Ted Drewes in the summertime.


Contact Information

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

Main Location  
6726 Chippewa 4224 Grand Blvd.

St. Louis, Missouri

63109 63111
(314) 481-2652
(314) 481-2124
(314) 352-7376

Hours of Operation Tree Lot Opens @ 9:30am

Custard at 11:00 am

Closes @ 10:45-ish pm

Tree Lot Opens @ 10am

Custard @ 11:00am

Closes @ 9:00pm


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