This past week-end the wheel of the year turned in St. Louis, edging a little closer to the autumnal equinox and ushering in the most perfect week of summer thus far – with warm, breezy afternoons and deliciously cool evenings. And it was only the 12th of August!
Saturday arrived sunny but without the scorching temperatures that characterized July and early August. And by the time a full moon rose high in the night sky, record crowds lounged on cars and filled the sidewalks in front of Ted Drewes Frozen Custard Stand (http://www.teddrewes.com/home/default.aspx#) spilling over into Chippewa Street.
Record-breaking crowds are not a novelty at Ted Drewes (a.k.a. affectionately as Drewes’ or Ted’s) where a fourth generation in the family business caters to the epicurean delights of not only St. Louisans but visitors passing through The Lou from coast to coast on Route 66. “Epicurean delights?” you may scoff. “At a frozen custard stand?” Absolutely! As anyone from Yogi Berra to Itzhak Perlman will attest while working his way through a banana split, aboaco mocha concrete, or a leaning, tower of pisa, five-scoop, vanilla cone.
And oh! The scrumptious impossibilities of an island, Hawaiian concrete a la pineapple, bananas, coconut and macadamia nuts on a frigid February night, or a Caramel Apple Sundae on a crisp November day, or a spicy Cindermint Shake while your Balsam fir tree is being wrapped for the trip home, then to be strung with lights. Best of all you can request whatever concoction of extras – fresh fruit to toppings – that your imagination can conjure. St. Louisans take great pleasure in creating their own specialties!
Ted Drewes, Jr., the present owner, once told my husband, Tom that he prefers his custard plain – without any trimmings. But then he grew up with the recipe Ted Drewes, Sr. purchased along with a frozen-custard- making-machine in 1929 and then perfected. Perfected it he did – and then swore the family to secrecy – a tradition that lingers at the Drewes’ two remaining south city custard stands.*
Featured on the Food Network’s “Feasting on Asphalt” and always near the top of The Lou’s Must-Do List, St. Louisans mark practically every occasion of note with visits to Ted’s – from winning games, graduations and proms to Bar/Bat Mitzahs. Yes, Ted Drewes is certified Kosher and although it’s best when fresh from the window, they ship overnight coast to coast; something probably necessitated by St. Louis natives who occasionally require a Ted Drewes’ fix in California or Rhode Island.
Back in the day, Drewes was a perfect place to cruise in a spanking-new convertible or vintage jalopy and to watch the girls – or boys – go by, while savoring some outrageously decadent dessert. It’s a rite of passage for St. Louisans to introduce their children to Ted Drewes’ much as Parisians introduce their youngsters to wine. Though frozen custard is not an acquired taste – from the first taste one is generally hooked.
Regardless of how the Cards are doing – whether the game is a win or a loss – St. Louisans head to Ted Drewes to celebrate or drown their sorrows in a congenial atmosphere of laissez-faire. On a perfect night like last Saturday night, when the moon is full and the air cool and sweet, the crowds can be daunting.
But within minutes, the efficient kids who produce and dress the custard will have taken your order (you will insult them if you ask whether they want to write it down even if you’re ordering in amounts of fifteen different selections or more) and handed it to you, occasionally holding a “concrete” upside down with the spoon standing upright, to prove you’ve gotten the concrete you ordered and NOT a shake. Meanwhile you have the fun of watching the crowd, who can be turned out in anything from swimsuits to wedding gown and tuxes.
There are a lot of things one can accomplish with a degree in Sociology from Washington University, St. Louis – but running a mind-bogglingly, successful custard stand for half a century is probably one of the least expected. Yet that’s what Ted Drewes, Jr. has done, employing hundreds of St. Louis teens over the years, providing their first taste of the business world along with the benefits of an Educational Assistance Program that allows high school and college students to work their shift obligations around their busy course schedules and incentivizes them to complete their education.
When I asked Ted’s son-in-law, Travis Dillon (manager of the signature Chippewa stand) whether Ted regrets or still enjoys the career choice he made decades ago, he responded, “It’s his passion! His life.” Ted Drewes, Sr. had a well-earned reputation in St. Louis as an amateur tennis champion but Ted Drewes, Jr. has left a mark on the St. Louis community for pleasure and delight that’s simply unbeatable. The Lou without Ted Drewes would not be The Lou. Long may he prosper!
* For a detailed history of Ted Drewes Frozen Custard and a wonderfully nostalgic description of the St. Louis in which it evolved check out Johnny Rabbit’s blog post: http://www.antiquewhs.com/2008/Inside_STL/teddrewes.htm”>
Photo Credits: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in Saint Louis, Missouri – image created by Alexander Smith on 7 August, 2004; original uploader – Indrian at en.wikipedia. Permission to use this photo: GFDL-with-Disclaimers; released under the GNU Free Documentation License. Official Route 66 Ted Drewes Marker and Crowd at Ted Drewes – Thomas Kavanaugh; remaining photos – Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.