Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vintage Roadside Visits: The Frostop in LaPlace, Louisiana

As we celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, we thought this would be the perfect time to share some history behind a classic roadside drive in. Nothing says summer like a meal at a mom and pop place with some history behind it!

We were thrilled to recently talk with Terry Toler of the LaPlace Frostop and here’s some history she was kind enough to share with us.

Vintage Roadside: What year was the LaPlace Frostop built?

Terry: 1958.

Vintage Roadside: Who built the restaurant?

Terry: My grandfather, Morris Terry built the LaPlace Frostop as an investment. He, my grandmother, and mom would take rides to one in Kenner, LA and he decided to build one in LaPlace. He never ran it - he leased it out.

Vintage Roadside
: So the original restaurant was built as a franchise location?

Terry
: Yes, this restaurant was built to be a Frostop.

Vintage Roadside: Did your grandfather have prior restaurant experience?

Terry: My grandfather and grandmother May Terry actually had a restaurant near where Frostop is today named Terry’s Restaurant. It burned down in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.

Vintage Roadside
: Has the restaurant always been owned by your family?

Terry: Starting with my grandfather it has been in our family the entire 51 years. The first man to lease it, not sure of his name, ran it for about 6 months. He was followed by Sonny Kendrick and then his brother Wayne Kendrick who ran it until 1966. The Frostop was run from 1966 - 1973 by Bill Gooding, Dave Millet, and Roland Millet.

Vintage Roadside: How long has your family been actively operating the restaurant?

Terry: My parents, Jimmie and Evelyn Toler, took over operation of the Frostop June 1, 1973. I joined my parents after graduating from LSU in 1993. I actually started back in 1979 cleaning tables and washing dishes and progressed from there on!

Vintage Roadside
: When did the Frostop chain cease operation?

Terry
: The best we can tell it was around 1981. My Dad called in an order for Frostop merchandise - cups, napkins, etc. The company handling that said they were no longer handling those items. Apparently we were the only Frostop buying the items. We never received any formal notification.

Vintage Roadside
: How many Frostop restaurants are left?

Terry
: There are several left scattered throughout the United States. There are more in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas than anywhere else in the country. The one in Thibodaux moved to a new location, as did one that was in Jefferson - it moved to Destrehan, so they no longer have the original look. Several “new” Frostop’s have opened and closed in the area in the past few years. There is no franchise so everyone does their own thing. Outside of Louisiana, there are Frostop’s in Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Illinois, Utah, and Idaho. Many of these are no longer operating in their original buildings. The Frostop in Huntington, West Virginia seems to be the one that has most maintained its original look. It was built in 1959. The internet has really allowed us to see the other Frostop’s across the country.

Here is a great website detailing some of them.

Vintage Roadside
: Your building still has that classic, original look to it. What changes have you made since 1958?

Terry
: The building has changed some through the years. The original building was much smaller. The mug was on the roof and there was no neon on the building or mug. Below is the original look:


The mug was moved to a pole sometime in the 1960’s and neon was put on the building and mug. No one seems to remember the details of mug move and neon. The dining room was added in 1962. At some point an office, back area, and storage room were added. In 1981, my Dad Jimmie, decided to do a renovation and changed the layout of the kitchen and serving area. The cooking and serving were all done in a small area. We had the room so they changed it up making things much better. The only change to the outside of the building was covering the original tile with wood. That was a decision that would come back to haunt us!


Serving cooking area before remodeling:


The mug received its first minor renovation in 1987, scaffolding was erected and the neon was taken off. Mugs Coleman, a local man, did some minor repairs to the metal and then repainted it. We had the rotation repaired by Brightway Signs and then put the mugs rotation and neon maintenance under contract with them.


In the early 1990’s a cream colored siding went on top of the wood and original tile.


Then in 1996, we found out that the building had Formosan termites! The wood under the siding was NOT a good idea, so off came the siding and the wood underneath it. We put cream colored tiles over the original tiles. The decision was made to change out our floor and put a slanted metal roof instead of the original flat roof. One week into the project with the roof off it stormed and our ceiling and walls buckled. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We found out we had termites in every wall! That started the process of almost 2 months of being closed and having every wall redone. The roof now has a different look thanks to that! The neon on the face of the building was changed a bit. Hamburgers - Hotdogs -BBQ now reads Burgers - Poboys - Hotdogs.


We were very conscious by 1996 that we wanted things to go back as they had been. I think had we bulldozed and started over it would have greatly changed people’s perception of the LaPlace Frostop.

The next change was the 2007 complete restoration of the mug. The original mug was sheet metal but it was redone in aluminum. The original frame, handle, and fiberglass frame were kept. Brightway/American Sign did the work. They still had the maintenance contract and completely reworked the transformers for the neon and rotation while it was in their shop.


I feel the building has stayed true to its roots while keeping it looking as original as possible. The only thing we would like to do is remove the siding under the canopy - under the siding is the original checkerboard pattern on the canopy.


Vintage Roadside: You mentioned the restoration of the mug – while being such an important piece of your history, it must have been one of those things that can really affect a budget.

Terry
: I didn’t change the neon in the renovation - they took it off and put it back on. The rebuilding of the mug was just under $19,000 - to do the neon all new would have been at least another $10,000.

Vintage Roadside
: Was there ever a thought to not restore the mug and replace it with a less-expensive plastic sign?

Terry
: That was NEVER even considered!!

Vintage Roadside
: The rest of the neon on your building also looks amazing. How tough is it to maintain those signs?

Terry
: That is what we’ve had the contract since 1987 for! It currently runs us $106.58 a month for neon and mug rotation - VERY worth it. Insurance also covered the neon damage after Hurricane Katrina.

Vintage Roadside
: Do you have vintage memorabilia from the restaurant?

Terry
: Some - wish we had kept more! Now we have to buy it back on eBay! I am currently restoring on old rootbeer barrel for display in our dining room. We still have some mugs with the logo. We were having them printed with the logo until 2004. The last batch had a problem and the mugs broke very easily. We think there was a problem in the firing process putting the logo on…that ended the logo on the mugs. One of the coolest items to me is the metal sign that shows the original patent.


Vintage Roadside: Do you offer inside and outside dining?

Terry
: Yes, inside and outside dining as well as phone orders

Vintage Roadside
: What are some of the items we might have the pleasure of ordering at the Frostop we might not find at another drive in?

Terry
: We have expanded way beyond the original Frostop menu. We have a golden grilled chicken sandwich and salad that are excellent. We actually have a huge menu. We also cook everything when it is ordered - so everything is fresh and hot.

Vintage Roadside
: We've heard you've got your own onion ring breading. Is it as amazing as we hear?

Terry
: People seem to love them. We didn’t have them for months after Hurricane Katrina due to our supplier going under water in New Orleans. We found out how much our customers missed them. We now sell our onion ring breading in 3lb bags for home use.

Vintage Roadside
: You offer frosted mugs of root beer. Any guesses on how many of those mugs have been "accidentally" taken home over the years?

Terry
: More that I would care to count. I went to someone’s house once and they showed me a cabinet full!!

Vintage Roadside
: How long have some of your regulars been eating at the Frostop?

Terry
: Some since the beginning….we have even had people tell us they got engaged here!

Vintage Roadside
: When/where can we stop by for a meal?

Terry
: We are open Monday - Saturday 11am - 6pm. We are located at 411 E. Airline Hwy. LaPlace, LA stop by and see us!

Vintage Roadside
: Thanks Terry for sharing your history, and also thanks to your family for keeping the Frostop going for over 50 years.

Terry
: You’re welcome!

So, if you find yourself down in Louisiana and are looking for a great meal we’d highly recommend a stop by the Frostop! We’ve got our eye on the Lot-O-Cheese Burger, the Golden Grilled Chicken Sandwich, two orders of onion rings, a rootbeer and a banana milkshake!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

All images courtesy of the LaPlace Frostop.

13 comments:

Robert said...

This sounds and looks like a great place. Really neat history, its a shame that so many of these neat places are gone without a trace, but at the same time I imagine that's what makes places like the Frostop that much more special. If I ever find myself in that neck of the woods I will certainly stop by.

Well done and have a great 4th!

Vintage Roadside said...

Robert - We're glad you enjoyed the post! Like you mentioned there's some great history there and these places really are something special. If you ever make it by be sure and let us know what you order:-)

Hope you & yours have a great holiday!

Trendy Bindi said...

Hi!
I just wanted to let you know that you have a Fabulous Blog award waiting at our blog. You can stop by and pick it up anytime!
Have a lovely Fourth!
Kerry

Gunnar and Sherry said...

Really enjoyed reading this. Nice that these folks care so much.

forrestina vintage said...

Fantastic as usual, the article and the history of the Frostop. Love the photos and the neon is superb!

Vintage Roadside said...

Kerry - Thanks! We'll be sure and stop by this week.

Gunnar & Sherry - Glad you guys enjoyed the interview. I agree it's wonderful all they work they've put into the Frostop.

Tina - Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the interview. I agree the neon is fantastic!

Christine said...

The LaPlace Frostop is amazing!! I worked there for a few years, but College took me to a different city that, unfortunately, does not have a Frostop. Every time I am home I pass by to get that Golden Grilled Chicken sandwich! It is my favorite item on the menu! The Lot-O-Burgers are amazing too! They still make their own Rootbeer and it is to die for!! If you are ever in South Louisiana you should venture the the Frostop in Laplace!!

Vintage Roadside said...

Christine - How wonderful you've got some personal history at the Frostop! We're completely sold on a meal (or two) the next time we're in the area! We're looking forward to seeing the mug.

Gabrielle Amanda said...

just found your blog, I live about 10 miles out of LaPlace, Louisisana and I go to that Frost top all the time. It's the best one. I went there on my first date. Lots of memories.They keep building newer, more modern ones, but the food isn't the same and they always go out of business.Their onion rings are the best I have ever had and you wont find any other root beer as good as theirs! glad to see them up here :) what a coincidence.

Vintage Roadside said...

Gabrielle - Thanks for stopping by and sharing some of your history and connection with the Frostop. We're jealous as we just don't have anything close to this in our part of the world. Thanks for doing your part to keep this piece of history going.

Jeff & Kelly

DEBRA said...

I'm looking for someone who has info on the Frostop Mug in Baton Rouge, La. My Uncle Dale Chauvin was the last to refurbish the giant mug. We are putting together a showing of his art and I know there were several articles written and photos of the mug while he was painting. He is probably one of the last sign painters before everything went digital. Any info appreciated.!

TheRandomTraveler said...

Frostop is an interesting place...I saw this one too, then found out down the line, they are a chain, as they have Frostops also in West Virginia and Idaho that I have seen...

Vintage Roadside said...

Debra - I'm sorry it took a bit to respond. Have you checked with the folks at the LaPlace Frostop? They've got a pretty good idea of some of the local history. You might ask to speak with Terry if you give them a call.

TheRandomTraveler - I think Frostop was a bit like A&W in that they had several franchise locations but over time they went independent. I know the Frostop parent company folded and the operators were left without a parent company leaving them to either carry on as a Frostop or change names.