Summer Nights: Frozen Custard In St. Louis

fromKBIA

As part of our "Summer Nights" series, we travel to a custard stand along old Route 66 in St. Louis, Mo. For more than 80 years, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard has been a traditional way for locals to cap off their night out on the town.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. On a hot summer night, you can't beat a cold treat. With that in mind, hundreds - often thousands - of people flock each night to a small custard stand in St. Louis, Missouri. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard has become a tradition and a point of regional pride. Ryan Famuliner of member station KBIA takes us on a summer night out in St. Louis.

RYAN FAMULINER, BYLINE: It's just after 9:00 on a Friday night and there are so many people lined up at Ted Drewes, it looks like the place must be giving something away. There are about 100 people here standing in front of the shop's 12 service windows.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: All right. Ready? One, two, three, go.

FAMULINER: Some teenage girls are taking pictures underneath the old-fashioned glowing neon sign out front. Ted Drewes opened this location along Route 66 in 1941.

JAMIE KING: We have a '67 Mustang and, after every soccer game, baseball game, we would come here in the back of the Mustang. So I've been coming here, pretty much, 34 years.

FAMULINER: That's back when Jamie King(ph) was a kid. She's bringing her kids now.

KING: You got ice cream in your nose again.

FAMULINER: Her son, Miles, is a fan of the custard, too.

MILES KING: Beautiful thing I ever tasted.

FAMULINER: It's a good choice, isn't it?

KING: Yes.

KING: It's a family tradition and we bring everybody here that we have come visit us. So, and of course, my brother - every time he flies in - he's a pilot for Comair, so every time he flies in here, he puts some on dry ice and flies it back home.

FAMULINER: At each of the 12 windows, workers in matching yellow t-shirts take orders and relay them to two more people inside, a three-person team on each window. There's not much dawdling here. The natives know what they want and get down to business, like Carol and Don Kitzmiller, who brought their granddaughter, Madeline.

CAROL KITZMILLER: Cindermint is named after his daughter. It's peppermint and custard.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: Johnny Rabbit. It's cherries and chocolate.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Blueberry, banana, chocolate chips.

FAMULINER: Is that on the menu or is that something you created?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: No, you can just ask for whatever you want, you know.

FAMULINER: Ted Drewes general manager, Travis Dillon, says weekend nights are always really busy, but tonight, there are some special events in town, too - a concert, a game, shows and more.

TRAVIS DILLON: Probably two or three thousand people would walk through here from opening to close, but that's the fun part, though, you know, because we're here and we're expecting that crowd.

FAMULINER: As it pushes past 10:00, the crowd is suddenly color-coordinated. Everyone seems to be wearing red. They've just made the 10-mile trek from Bush Stadium after watching a St. Louis Cardinals game. People don't just get their ice cream and leave. They hang around and talk, sit on benches, on their tailgate or the curb in front of a neighboring business.

Shannon McCollough met some friends who just came from the game.

SHANNON MCCOLLOUGH: When we moved here, we were told that you're really a St. Louisan if you see somebody you know at Ted Drewes. And I can't remember if it took a year or two years, but at about that time point, we ran into somebody we knew at Ted Drewes, so we knew we were really St. Louisans.

FAMULINER: As it gets closer to 11:00, 18-year-old Taylor Schultz and six of her friends, fresh high school graduates in their sundresses, ended their night at Ted Drewes. They walked across the street to find a spot to sit in front of a poster store.

TAYLOR SCHULTZ: I think it's really fun to people watch at Ted Drewes. St. Louis is a really big family community and we all come together for certain things. Like, if you say Ted Drewes, everybody knows about it. Everybody has their own favorite ice cream. It's just something that connects us all.

FAMULINER: It's around 11:30 now and the windows start closing. Workers are cleaning up, trying to leave no sign of that huge crowd, but tomorrow, there will be another crowd and more empty yellow paper cups. For NPR News, I'm Ryan Famuliner in St. Louis, Missouri.

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