EAST MANATEE -- Freddy's Florida frenzy of frozen custard begins today as the Wichita, Kan.-based chain opens its first Sunshine State restaurant.
Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers will open at 10:30 a.m. today in the Creekwood Crossing shopping center, 7376 52nd Place E.
The restaurant was packed Monday as part of a test run for friends and family where the staff of about 70 received one more round of training while serving free food.
Freddy's is known for cooked-to-order steakburgers, shoestring fries, Vienna beef hot dogs and, of course, hand-dipped frozen custard.
Owner Cash Shelton helped run the staff through its final test, complete with lunch rush, to ready for today's opening inside the retrofitted former Arby's.
"It puts a little pressure on them during the training, and lets them know they're training for real people," Shelton said.
Lucretia and Don Hill of Siesta Key were lucky enough to snag a free meal Monday. Hill's business, Siesta Marble and Tile, did tile work for the restaurant.
Lucretia Hill raved about her grilled chicken breast sandwich.
"It's very tender," she said. "The fries are my favorite -- they're the best fries I've ever had."
Don Hill was pleased Freddy's didn't skimp on the toppings for his Freddy's Original Double steakburger.
"When you ask for onions, tomato and lettuce, they put lettuce, tomatoes and onions on it and not one pickle," he said, laughing. "These other places you get one pickle and a dabble of ketchup."
Bob Rasberry, Shelton's pre-school classmate back in Kansas, is helping him train staff. Rasberry runs several stores in Oklahoma, and brought some employees along to train the staff here.
Food quality and customer service make Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers a good restaurant to eat at and to own, Rasberry said.
"We try to instill in our employees old-time hospitality and morals -- treat people the way you'd want
to be treated," Rasberry said. "We don't call them customers. They're guests, just like they're guests in your home."
A group in Kansas -- Scott Redler, Bill, Randy and Freddy Simon -- co-founded the chain in 2002 and now have expanded to 15 states. Bradenton is the 97th store.
The Bradenton store will be "one of many" South Florida locations, said Shelton, including Sarasota later this year. Shelton owns franchise rights from Manatee County south to Naples.
Shelton trained in the food and franchise industry by working with his father, Jack Shelton, a well-known franchise operator and businessman in Wichita, who got on board with Pizza Hut during its early days.
Cash Shelton worked as a waiter inside the original Pizza Hut in Wichita.
His father's love of polo brought the family to the Sarasota Polo Club, and after getting to know the area for so long, Cash Shelton decided to become a permanent resident and open a Freddy's.
"It's been very appealing," Shelton said. "We watched it for a few years and decided to jump on board before we got left in the dust."
Rasberry offered some tips to first-time Bradenton customers.
"We do press our meat flat, so I always highly recommend a double. That is why our number one is a double," he said. "A lot of people think we're going to be serving a big pound burger. That's not what we're doing."
Because food is cooked to order, Rasberry encourages patience from guests as the standard service time is 3 to 4 minutes. Still, a Freddy's can pump 52 cars through the drive-thru in an hour, he added.
"We're not a McDonald's so it is a little big longer," Rasberry said.
Flat-pressed burgers speed the cooking time to help lines move, he said.
If you can't get enough of the custard, Freddy's also offers quarts to take home, as well as cakes. A custom cake can be completed with one day's notice, Rasberry said.
"Our cake decorators, they'll make it with any topping and with anything you like," he said. "They can customize it for birthdays, anniversaries."
For sundaes, the signature turtle is a franchise favorite out west, but the Hawaiian Delight appears to be the early favorite during Florida test runs, he said.
That creation includes vanillas custard, pineapple, strawberry, coconut, macadamia nuts, whipped cream and a cherry on top.
Restaurant hours are10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and it closes at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.
Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
7376 52nd Place East
Bradenton, FL 34203
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday