Runway-side Chalet Suzanne closing after 83 Years

Chalet Suzanne Restaurant and Inn in Lake Wales, Florida, a paradigm of class and cuisine among airplane-accessible destinations, will be closing its doors Aug. 4. Looking for a buyer, third-generation owner Eric Hinshaw and wife Dee say it can be yours. Otherwise, they plan a silent auction of its unique contents.

Hinshaw’s grandmother Bertha opened the lakeside Chalet in 1931, two years after famed Philadelphia publisher Edward Bok cut the ribbon on his Bok Tower and Gardens nearby. That legacy Florida attraction remains famous for its 60-bell, 205-foot carillon atop a 293-foot “mountain” — one of this flat state’s highest spots.

Local news coverage celebrated the Chalet’s former glories as “a hidden gem for movie stars and wealthy aviators.”

Throughout GA’s Golden Years, it was one of those places where flyers could easily land, dine and stay, privileged to enjoy an experience beyond the reach of most. The 100-acre property still includes its 70-acre, 2,450-foot grass strip, a real beauty! Only recently has the magic been compromised by residential construction nearby.

ChaletSuzanneA local restaurant consultant commented that the Chalet’s luxurious (and expensive) multi-course menu was never updated for a younger (and less flush) crowd. Famous was its signature Romaine Soup of “18 secret herbs and spices” (but no romaine, they say.) It was canned on the property along with Tomato Aspic, Vichyssoise, Watercress and a lot more.

The Romaine was known as “Moon Soup,” since astronauts on the Apollo 15 and 16 moon missions demanded some (in dehydrated form) for the trip. It flew aboard Apollo-Soyuz, too.

The Inn’s 26 rooms were an acquired taste in my book, being perhaps even more quirky than the restaurant’s décor. But the place lacked nothing in imagination. Symbolic of the restaurant’s amusements were bowls for its unique soups adapted from Norwegian ashtrays. The place even had its own “resident ceramicist,” with workshop.

Despite all the craziness in décor, the Chalet’s extensive menu was innovative — if rather formal and dated by today’s standards. Extensive, multi-course prix fixe dinners ranged from $59 to $79, often ending with Crepes Suzanne. Lunch was slightly more reasonable at $36. Their much-loved breakfasts were not all that out of line, I thought.

But the implication that time was passing couldn’t be missed when last I ate there. Dropping in before SUN ‘n FUN in nearby Lakeland, I lunched alone in their empty dining room. I’m a big fan of things European and formal, even if pricey. Clearly, most of us are not — and perhaps especially pilots.

I mourn that Chalet Suzanne is fading away. It was one of those places that made flying special. It will be missed, now perhaps especially by locals who continued to patronize it for those breakfasts, business lunches and special occasions.

Local media quoted owner Hinshaw saying, “It’s time to retire.” He added, hoping for a buyer, “For many years, we have lived our dream…. Maybe it’s YOUR turn now!”

For more information: ChaletSuzanne.com 

© 2014 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved   

Comments

  1. Stan Salony says

    And all we had at Lantana (Palm Beach County Airport- KLNA) was “Maudie and Joel’s
    “Airport Canteen.”

    Great memories there, though. Soloed in 1964. Anyone remember Byron Clark my
    rotary-wing instructor and World’s Best Helicopter Pilot (in a tie with my other deceased friend Ed “Too Tall” Freeman)?

  2. CHUCK OGLE says

    A great place to celebrate an occasion. I used to work on Eric’s Bellanca in Bartow and he would bring me Moon Soup. Also meet his father with his Gyro copter. Will hate to see it close.

  3. Greg W says

    It would indeed be great if a buyer were found. Perhaps a much revise menu and pricing, although making it a different place could let it prosper again. My thought is that from the flyer’s perspective it is an airport and once gone it will be gone for good. We all have seen that once an airstrip of any size is closed it is all but impossible to reopen as an active airport.

  4. drew says

    just a thank you for the wonderful donation brunches you ran over the last few months in an attempt to get more flyin visitors. . we had wonderful times with very interesting meals each time we were able to make it. my mooney even enjoyed the renovated grass strip. we brought a visitor from england who was duly impressed.

    please hang on for a buyer who can continue the legacy.

  5. DON MILLER says

    A great place to fly in. Having dined there several times over the past 30 years and stayed in the unique Inn I am sad to see it go. The Hinshaw’s were also the Bellanca dealers years ago and I got my first Viking ride there. Our group picture was sitting on the wood wing! Hope someone buys it. The soup is great.

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