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News Story
Updated: 10/18/2014 10:29:31PM

Chalet Suzanne to close

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PHOTO BY PAUL STAIK


After eight decades of service to the community, Chalet Suzanne is closing its doors and its owners, Eric and Denise Hinshaw, are retiring.

PHOTO BY KATHY LEIGH BERKOWITZ


Chalet Suzanne Restaurant hours, as posted on the outside of one of their banquet halls.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY CHALET SUZANNE


Bertha Hinshaw, the founder of Chalet Suzanne. Her husband was Carl Hinshaw Sr.

By CATHY PALMER

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After 83 years, the world-famous Chalet Suzanne Restaurant and Inn, one of Lake Wales signature sites, will be closing its doors on Aug. 3, according to owner Dee Hinshaw.

After years of struggling with a declining marketplace for its quirky accommodations and toney cuisine, the Hinshaws opted to put the whole 100-acre inn site and restaurant up for sale, Hinshaw said.

Dee and her husband, Carl, notified longtime guests and friends of the closure via a heartfelt letter issued on June 30.

“It has been a wonderful season in time, and we thank all of you for helping to make this amazing adventure worthwhile,” stated the letter.

Dee, however, added that declining interest in haute cuisine and the continuing struggle to maintain the 100-acre estate all led to the decision to shut the National Register of Historic Places site and offer all or part of it for sale.

The Hinshaws had no dollar figure set for the price of the estate, but the restaurant and inn buildings are listed on Polk County tax rolls with an assessed value of about $360,000.

That doesn’t cover the intrinsic value of the landmark, the Hinshaws said Sunday. Taking into account the historic designations, the mystique of the locale, the entire corporate holdings and its history in the community, the Hinshaws said they hoped its value was “worth a lot more than just the property value.” They declined to put a number on the whole, but said they “hope it’s more than a million, maybe multimillions.”

The restaurant and inn, started in 1931 by Carl’s grandmother after she was widowed as a way to support herself and her two children, has received dozens of accolades from both travel and food reviewers. It has received Golden Spoons and top country inn ratings around the globe. Its signature soups have even been taken to the moon by astronauts.

“We’ve been struggling for five years,” Dee said. “Carl has been crop dusting all over to help us keep it up. We’ve even changed the menu and done all we could to make it work. We’ve tried everything.”

What is up for sale?

“Everything,” Dee says. That includes:

• The Chalet Suzanne — the name and restaurant known for excellence for nearly a century

• 100 acres of commercial or industrial property

• The restaurant building with large commercial kitchen, multiple dining rooms and guest rooms, the fully licensed bar

• The inn with 23 guest rooms along with other buildings, apartments, employee housing, gift shop, office space and pool

• Soup cannery and warehouse

• FAA licensed airport with 2,313-foot lighted sod runway

• Four and a half acre vineyard with mature Lake Emerald grapes

• 16-acre spring-fed lake

• Numerous homes, apartments and buildings for employees, managers, museums, long-term tenants and cottage industry crafters

• Shooting range

• Four-acre undeveloped parcel of property on U.S. 27

• Antiques

• Equipment, tools, aircraft

Dee said the holdings would be sold either as a whole or piecemeal. Even the furnishings will be up for grabs in a silent auction. Items throughout the buildings will be assigned a number and people may leave a bid for one or whatever number they were interested in at sales@chaletsuzanne.com. The sale will include everything from tables and chairs, many with priceless tiles and art from around the world, and even linens and dishware.

“If you don’t see a number on an item you are interested in,” Dee explained, “take a picture and email it to us with an offer.”

The final closing date of Aug. 3 will give area residents and visitors a last chance to visit the restaurant or inn. “Reservations will be taken for dinner, lunch or overnight stays until then,” Dee said. She added a special overnight package will be offered including dinner and guests will be given a 10 percent discount on their meal price.

The Chalet’s 35 employees were told several weeks ago about the impending closing “to give them an opportunity to find other jobs,” Dee said. “We’re going to try to come up with severance packages, but that remains to be seen.”

The Hinshaws haven’t decided what their next steps will be.

“We’ll go where the Lord leads us and do what He wants for us,” Dee added.


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