Long a symbol of post-Katrina defiance, the refurbished sign at vintage burger joint kindles the past and points to the future.
People who might have spotted the giant mug sign from Ted’s Frostop loaded onto a flatbed and trucked away one day last fall could be excused for thinking they’d witnessed the end of an era. In fact, it was part of a new chapter for a long-running legacy.
That mug is a 14-foot-tall, sheet metal relic from the glory days of the American burger stand, and it’s been a kitschy landmark along South Claiborne Avenue since it was first installed in the 1950s. More recently, it became a defiant symbol of Hurricane Katrina recovery.
Originally mounted on a high pedestal over the restaurant, the mug was knocked down by Katrina’s storm winds, landing upside down in the parking lot, as if flicked from its base. Rather than right it, the Ted’s crew had it repaired right there where it stood, with frosted top down against the pavement. When Ted’s reopened in 2006, the logo on its menus and T-shirts was changed to show the mug upside down.
But the departure of the mug in September signaled a new start for Ted’s Frostop, which now has a new owner, a revamped menu and a newly restored mug sign returned to its original, frosted-side-up stature. That mug is also now trimmed out in neon lettering and spins on its base.
The mug spent five years upside down, and in that time its quirky appearance probably had a chance to grow on some people. I, for one, always thought it was pretty cool of Ted’s to take what could have been a disheartening image of Katrina and reclaim it as its own. People who have intentionally preserved those big X symbols spray-painted on their homes by post-Katrina search parties can probably relate.
But when Peter Moss bought Ted’s last year, he wanted to signal that some changes had been made. He’s out to revitalize Ted’s, and repairing the mug was only one step. Perhaps most importantly, he’s replaced the pre-formed patties Ted’s has long used with fresh-ground chuck and the restaurant’s namesake root beer is once again based on the original Frostop recipe and flows into heavy, frosted mugs.
That root beer has a particular evocative link for many locals. The Frostop brand dates to 1926, when its first root beer stand opened in Springfield, Ohio. Eventually, hundreds of locations would spread across the country, a precursor to the multinational burger chains to follow. Ted’s Frostop opened in New Orleans in 1955, and more emerged around southeast Louisiana. By the 1980s these became independent operators using the Frostop name. Some have since closed, a few others remain.
Ted’s in New Orleans has been spiffed up significantly inside and out since Moss took over, though it still looks and feels like the old place. Oldies tunes play through speakers in the parking lot, and it’s easy to envision the nostalgic drive-ins of the 1950s when munching through a paper-wrapped burger here.
Everyone in New Orleans had to find a way to manage after Katrina, and many found better ways of doing things as time went on. If fixing a giant root beer mug upside down was how Ted’s handled phase one, righting that sign and revitalizing an old time favorite for the next generation seems like a good course now.
3100 Calhoun St., New Orleans, 504-861-3615