Chalet Suzanne is closing after 83 years, says the Hinshaw family who has lived, worked, created, loved and cherished the property in Lake Wales. Think back to the 1930s when life was a bit slower, people had time for pleasantries and conversation, trips were a major undertaking.
Boom days in the 1920s blessed Florida and Lake Wales with prosperity, then came the crash with the Great Depression.
During a harsh winter in 1931, Carl Hinshaw Sr. developed pneumonia and passed away. His widow, Bertha, was left with their home, one “do-everything” servant, and two young children. Since the Hinshaws had always traveled and entertained a great deal, Bertha Hinshaw was determined “to make a living for her family doing what she knew best, making people feel at home,” says the Chalet Suzanne history. So in 1931, Suzanne’s Chalet, named after her only daughter came into being, permanently changed to Chalet Suzanne sometime later. A week after putting a small sign out on State Road 17 advertising her new enterprise, the first family of travelers stopped by for a visit. They loved the food, friendship and unique atmosphere the Chalet offered and subsequently returned year after year to relax and be entertained by the Hinshaws. The years were kind to the Hinshaws as Mr. and Mrs. Duncan Hines, who were touring the state at the time, discovered Suzanne’s Chalet. So enthralled, the Hines’ included the Chalet in a Christmas card list they had written to send to their friends. It was a catalogue of wonderful places to stay and dine on the way to and from Florida. With son, Carl Jr. and daughter, Suzanne helping, Chalet Suzanne grew in popularity. When World War II began and Carl, a pilot, went off to serve, Suzanne married a favorite guest, Ernest Otto, and moved with him to New York City. Then, with Bertha tending the business alone, the main house with the dining rooms burned to the ground. For quite some time after the fire, Central Florida citizens felt the loss of the Chalet Suzanne, as it had already become a landmark for the area. But after the war, Carl Hinshaw returned to help his mother rebuild. And rebuild they did … using parts and pieces, boards and strips from buildings not used on the grounds, giving the new dining rooms 14 different levels. Chalet Suzanne is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, five dining rooms, 30 guest rooms, a landing strip for airplanes, a gift shop, spa, the ceramic studio, a cannery for soups and sauces, citrus groves and a small experimental vineyard. The Chalet Suzanne Soup Cannery was started in 1956 by Carl Hinshaw Jr. in his garage, with family recipes served in the governors’ mansions, at a world’s fair, and aboard Trans World and Eastern Airlines international flights after 50 years of production.
Carl Hinshaw Jr. married Vita Petersen who lived in a tiny guest room at the Chalet where she hosted, waited on tables, and drove the boat for her husband’s water ski shows on the Chalet Lake. She is credited as second generation owner to spearheading the effort to put Chalet Suzanne on the National Register of Historic Places, as a historic district encompassing the expansive property, got their Moon Soup into the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, established the wedding and autograph garden where the tiles guests signed are placed on the circular garden wall and many weddings were performed.
The Hinshaw family has always run Chalet Suzanne. Four generations have lived and worked on the property.
Chalet Suzanne has been the recipient of many accolades including being selected by Uncle Ben’s Rice as one of the top 10 country inns in the U.S., named to the Florida Trend Magazine’s Golden Spoon Award Hall of Fame, soups selected by NASA and the crew of Apollo 15 to be aboard their trip to the moon in 1973, into space on Apollo 16 and for a dinner meeting in space on Apollo-Soyuz.