Inside St. Louis

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

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


     The Ted Drewes Story…or at least some of it.










     Jeanne Venn, the “Queen of Concierges” at the Chase Park-Plaza Hotel tells us that one of the most asked questions by their guests from across the country and around the world is: “How do we get to Ted Drewes?” Some, she says, don’t really know exactly what Ted Drewes is…but they know, they’ve GOT to go there. Ted Drewes is truly a St. Louis landmark as widely known as the Gateway Arch, the Mighty Mississippi, Tony’s, The Hill, the Cardinals, Crown Candy and, at least for now (go away In Bev), the happy HQ of Anheuser-Busch. The name Ted Drewes is simply synonymous with that wonderful summery sensation - Frozen Custard - and it’s almost de rigueur that when St. Louisans have folks in from out of town, that they make a stop at one of Ted’s two busy, busy, busy locations. But don’t let the assembled multitudes scare you away as even though the throngs at the Drewes’ windows resemble bees at a honeycomb, the talented trained workers, in their bright yellow Ted Drewes t-shirts, making them resemble busy bees, will have your frozen concoction, as ordered, in your hands and headed past your taste-buds lickety-split. And yes Ted’s does offer a bountiful banana split.









     You will likely note that no matter how complex your order might be, and many are, the order taker on the other side of the window never writes it down. This started a long, long time ago, in 1930, when Ted Drewes was first proffering his creamy wares on Natural Bridge. Now to set the record straight this Ted Drewes was the dad of our Ted Drewes, Jr. of today. Well it seems that a neighboring business, Ed’s White Front Bar B Q, just across the street at the NW corner of Natural Bridge Rd. and Goodfellow Blvd., was doing a brisk biz offering curb service supplied by African-American tuxedoed male “car hops”. Observant of Ed’s success, Ted’s wife Mildred volunteered herself to be their first car-hop and decided to take orders from the guys and gals in their filvvers without writing the orders down. Thus the start of this verbal order tradition, which continues today, even though the era of the Drewes’ car-hops came to a close in ’77. To help those yesteryear hoppers to keep things straight, they had to first pay for the orders they turned in and then collect from the customers when their order was served on the window tray.













     Prior to opening his first place in our town, Ted, was a highly successful amateur tennis champ. But since there was little remuneration for his efforts in that field, Ted The 1st evaluated methods in which he could make money and still play the game he so dearly loved. As fate would have it, his cousin who had invented the carnival ride he called The Caterpillar was in town before hitting the road with the Royal American Shows. That incidentally was the big carnival that played here for many a year at Grand and Forest Park and later at other locations including on the Arena lot. Ted was told there was money to be made in operating a frozen custard booth in traveling carnivals. This had been done to some degree since frozen custard was first created in 1902; and yes the creamy stuff was sold at our 1904 World’s Fair. So Ted bought into the dream by buying a custard-making machine and a recipe. The recipe wasn’t that great so he quickly improved on it and went into purveying custard starting in 1929 with a traveling carnival. After the summer season he set up a winter custard-stand in St. Petersburg, Florida and then in the first summer of the Great Depression Ted came home to the Mound City where he came across a small 50 foot lot sandwiched between Sam The Watermelon Man and Balsano’s Shell station that he rented for $100 a month. Unfortunately he was misled as to who owned the lot and when the actual owner, who was from out-of-town, showed up to collect the rent, Ted decided to move a couple blocks west.        















     After long-distance “commuting” between St. Pete and St. Louis from ’29 to ’34, Ted’s wife Mil, said enough’s enough as they had four kids to raise. So Ted, Sr. sold insurance for Travelers and also became the manager of The Lorelei at 4525 Olive St. just west of Taylor. By the way, the building’s still there. In winter The Lorelei was a large roller-skating emporium and during the summer it became a swimming pool, with the floor opening just like the combination swimming pool/dance floor in the Frank Capra movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” At the time Ted became manager, a gang of thugs was terrorizing the customers of The Lorelei, so Ted, Sr., visited the nearest police station and asked for protection. He got the ear of none other than Sgt. Harry Fender, of Ziegfeld Follies and later Captain 11 fame, and Harry cleaned up the problem. As Ted, Jr. says, Harry was a friend when his dad really needed one.











     Ted Drewes would head south to 4224 S. Grand Boulevard at Kingsland Ct. with a second location in ’31. If you were able to travel back to that year you’d discover many things look much the same as today. Ted’s stand is eerily close to the way it was, as is Al Smith’s Feasting Fox at the corner of Grand and Meramec St. There’s still a filling station at the SW corner of that intersection and the Alwa building, where zoo director George Vierheller once called home, is at the NW corner. The Cleveland High School “Red Castle” is still just south of Bingham Ave. east of the athletic field. If we were to stop our time machine say in ’78 we could shop at Strebler’s IGA Foodliner on Meramec east of Grand, buy something to read at Preston’s book shop on Meramec west of Grand or get a pizza at Joe Pugliese’s, Guiseppe’s, that had just moved from 10th St. and Franklin Avenue where it was known for many years as Rose’s. Guiseppe’s is still there but only serving lunch on weekdays. We could have opened a savings account or made a loan at Equality Savings & Loan headed by Rich Fellhauer just north on Grand or picked up office supplies across the street at Press-Craft.









     In the 1950s on S. Grand we might have had a cone of Ted Drewes custard then sauntered over to the NW corner and picked up a copy of Prom magazine at the Belko drug store or maybe filled the tank of our ’56 De Soto at Berry’s Standard station at the NE corner. That’s when regular was setting you back all of 19.9 cents per gallon. You could get a good cheeseburger for a quarter at Chex Grill, or take home a loaf of bread from Sobery’s bakery, both on Grand north of Meramec. Then hop the Grand streetcar to head north to take in a movie at the Melba, Ritz, Shenandoah, Shubert, Empress, Missouri, Fox or St. Louis theatre.     












     Now as Steve Mizerany the yesteryear appliance pitchman used to say: “Don’t be confoosed,” Ted Drewes frozen custard is NOT ice-cream. If you want ice-cream go to the circa 1913 Crown Candy Kitchen at N. 14th St. and St. Louis Ave. or The Fountain on Locust at 3037 Locust St. on St. Louis’ historic old Automobile Row. Look for the historic markers that Ben Hilliker and the Horseless Carriage Club of Missouri have placed on dozens of buildings along several blocks of Locust, including The Fountain, which was a Stutz Motorcar dealership dating to The Great War. At Crown’s, as North Side neighborhood folks call it, I’d strongly suggest the Johnny Rabbitt Fresh Banana Malt with chopped nuts and nutmeg mixed in and then topped with fresh whipped cream, a cherry and a cookie. I get a nickel for each one sold (just kidding). My “Fountain” fave is an Almond Joy sundae with fresh hot fudge and whipped cream…it tastes like a glorified Almond Joy candy bar. Remember the Peter Paul slogan? “Almond Joy has nuts, Mounds don’t!” Peter Paul was the candy company that once made these two confections. By the by, if you’re from St. Louis sundae is pronounced Sun-dah…not sun-day.












     Ice cream and frozen custard are made somewhat the same, but succinctly, frozen custard has far less air blended into the mix than ice-cream so the custard is creamier and richer. Also custard contains eggs, and in the case of Ted Drewes, it’s also made with honey. The exact Drewes formula is a carefully guarded secret known only to a handful of people who, are, I’m serious, sworn to secrecy. So even though other locations here and ‘cross this great land offer frozen custard…it’s not the same as Ted Drewes frozen custard. I’m reminded of the old Chapman’s Ice Cream advertising campaign that stated there was a “subtle little difference” in Chapman’s.  








     When Ted Drewes was on Natural Bridge, neighboring businesses included the aforementioned Sam The Watermelon Man and Ed’s White Front, as well as the Goody-Goody Diner (once drive-in) that’s still going strong. There was also the Thunderbird drive-in movie theatre, Amadeo Fiore’s Melrose pizza, the Terry Moore bowling alley, a Katz drugstore, Hodge’s roller rink, Casevely-Machens Ford, Mad Man Muntz used cars, Mallory Buick and the Bardahl plant where they made a motor-oil additive. The Chevy/Fisher Body plant was east on Natural Bridge as was Gene Jantzen Chevrolet and Uncle Dick Slack The Jolly Irishman, who peddled appliances and home furnishings. Sansone’s restaurant on Union offered home-made turtle chili, and there was the once bustling Small Arms plant north on Goodfellow. Ted Drewes departed Natural Bridge a half-century ago.








     In ’41 Ted hit Route 66 in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood created by Cyrus Crane Willmore and the area was still undergoing considerable development. When frozen custard came calling in southwest St. Louis many of the buildings with which we’re familiar had yet to be built. The Hampton Village Shopping Center was a dream slowed to a stop by WWII, with just the Farmer’s Market, later Bettendorf’s Supermarket, being the principal structure. There was a teeny-tiny White Castle at the SW corner of Hampton Ave. and Chippewa St., Stein Brothers bowling alley was just north of Chippewa on the west side of Hampton, and at Hampton and Pernod Ave. was the then three year old Mallinckrodt Grade School. There was a classic orange and black A&W root beer stand directly across from Ted’s, where they served two styles of hamburgers…and they were good…the Missouri and the California. The latter came with the works. A&W along with White Castle as well as Ted Drewe’s offered curb service that was a hit with Route 66 drivers long before Ike came up with the Interstate highway system. In those days Ted Drewes was listed in the telephone directory as being a root beer stand and that simple but classic neon root beer sign is now in the Antique Warehouse.













     Clay mines were to the east of Sulphur Ave. between Chippewa and Pernod and there was a good deal of undeveloped land from Hampton to River Des Peres. Before long Joe Mittino’s Shangri-La Supper Club would open at 6600 Chippewa. It later would have various names including Parente’s Italian Village, Hagiparis’ restaurant, Saro’s Sunny Italy and today it’s the last dining spot with the venerable Garavelli’s name. There was the Chilton Motor Lodge, now St. Louis Hills Retirement Center, which was built to be a Howard Johnson’s hotel and restaurant when the original plan for I-44 was to be very near Chippewa. The Steak & Shake at Lansdowne was a landmark as were a Lammert’s furniture store branch at the SW corner of Jamieson Ave. and Chippewa and a branch Biederman’s furniture store, katty-corner ‘cross the street. The A&W root beer stand was torn down to make way for an ultra-modern Parkmoor restaurant, and yes they did have curb service by the Boys in the Orange Jackets. It didn’t last long and was replaced by a Jefferson-Gravois bank branch. Grau pastries was across Chippewa to the west of Ted’s and there was Orneste Caudera’s restaurant at 6725 Chippewa. Farinella’s nursery and garden center occupied what’s now the eastern section of Ted Drewes parking lot. The names and the memories could go on and on: Pat Riley appliances, Kemper piano, Venker drug, Gabby’s Sunoco, Franklin-Union furniture, Rustler Steak House, Truman’s Grill, etc.














     The quality of Ted Drewes never varies. I’ve consumed these custard concoctions for decades and it’s always great. No one else comes close. I’m going to boldly suggest that on some visit to either of Ted’s stands you try a Johnny Rabbitt Chocolate Covered Cherry Concrete. It’s now in its third season and it’s one of the most refreshing delicacies you’ll find anywhere. Other treats to consider are the orange slushy, the Terramizzou, a root beer float, the Dutchman, strawberry shortcake, Crater Copernicus, caramel apple, hot fudge sundae, a malt or milk shake, the Southern Delight and the list goes on and on and on. Full explanations of each item are clearly posted. Go for some whipped cream and nuts and hot fudge too. As Ted says, “It’s really good, Guys…and Gals”.         



     Pictured to the left is the original ROOT BEER sign from Ted Drewes, mentioned earlier, which is now part of the Antique Warehouse Collection (Click on it to learn more).  In the image on the right you can see the sign hanging from the front of the Ted Drewes building.


Written by Johnny Rabbitt

 Historical details provided by Ted Drewes, Jr.,  Norbury Wayman, and the Rabbitt Archives. Additional information from Norma Bolin, who has a book being released shortly with a section dedicated to Ted Drewes.

Click here to view all of the images from Ted Drewes.


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 11 am (Feb-Dec) 11 am (Summer Only)

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