It’s Lady Chattaway’s way
Story and photos by Cherlene Willis, LocalShops1
The Chattaburger was introduced to St. Petersburg in 1951, in the days of muscle cars and poodle skirts. The 7-ounce burger — topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion — came with a side of fries and cost less than 50 cents.
Today you can still cruise to the city’s oldest drive-in and you’ll find the Chattaburger, with its original sign, “The Chattaway Drive In, Home of Good Food,” along with another sign, this one painted on the side of a pink claw-foot bathtub, directing patrons to the parking lot.
Walk over the garden bridge and into the outdoor patio, and The Chattaway experience begins. The courtyard is filled with picnic tables and 1950s-style booths, a stage for entertainers and a pond filled with koi.
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Helen Lund opened The Chattaway more than 60 years ago, making it one of the oldest restaurants in St. Petersburg.
Jillian Frer, the current owner, entered the family business when she married Lund’s son, Everett, decades ago. She was nicknamed “Lady Chattaway” because of her London roots. Everett and Frer have since divorced, but when Everett died in 2002, he left the restaurant to her. He knew she would carry on the tradition and stay true to its heritage, Frer says.
Small changes have been made over the years, including adding a garden, removing the shuffleboard and introducing afternoon teas in the dining room. But the original recipes have remained the same, and the signature Chattaburger with fries meal is still there, for $9.09.
“We cook the chicken the same,” Frer says. “We pat our own patties the same and we try to keep it that way. People are looking for some comfort in this difficult world. Something that’s there, something that hasn’t changed.”
Among the restaurant’s more popular dishes is the cheeseburger, often cited as one of the best in St. Petersburg. But in addition to the classic burgers, some newer dishes are gaining fans. The new Asian chicken salad, Frer says, simply “melts in your mouth.” And for dessert? “We have creme puffs to die for.”
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Frer is now 81, and the restaurant keeps her busy and feeling young. A typical day is 10 to 12 hours, hosting tea parties and making sure everything is running smoothly.
That’s just Lady Chattaway’s way.
As for the secret to the restaurant’s longtime success? “There are angels watching over us,” she says. “We’ve survived too many times. It never occurred to me not to get up and do it all over again.”
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