Should the Queen of England ever make a quick whistlestop in St. Petersburg, odds are her itinerary would include afternoon tea at the Chattaway. One of the city’s longest-lived restaurants, it’s the only place in town to combine funky Floridian roadside charm with centuries-old British tradition.
Should Her Majesty feel like a burger and a side of slaw, the Chattaway will have her covered, too.
The afternoon teas were the brainchild of Jillian Frers, who’s owned the restaurant – at the intersection of 4th Street and 22nd Avenue South – since the mid 1970s. If arrangements are made in advance, she’ll serve up the English tea, with scones, petit fours and wee little finger sandwiches, in the semi-formal dining room.
A Londoner by birth, Frers had followed her first husband to St. Pete and a new start. After that marriage ended, and the one after that, she found herself a divorced mother of six without a lot of options.
As a hobby, she began to perform in plays at the St. Petersburg and Clearwater Little Theaters, and that’s where she met Everett Lund, a well-regarded local actor and singer; they appeared together in The Odd Couple.
“He was my best friend,” says Frers, 86. “He gets a crush on me, and he’s going to take care of me. I’m with six kids and the ex-husband’s not giving me any money. So life becomes difficult.”
Lund proposed, and soon Jillian was part-owner of the Chattaway, which Everett’s mother had owned since 1951.
Constructed in the early ‘20s, the building housed a general store for its first decade – it included a bar and a row of rough-hewn stools – before being converted into a sandwich-and-beer joint in the wake of Prohibition. By the time ambitious New York divorcee Helen Lund bought the place, it was already called the Chattaway. Everett’s mom always said she never found out what the name was supposed to mean, if anything.
Then, as now, the main draw of the Chattaway was its outdoor dining area, shady and comfortable, ringed with picnic table and painted benches, planted with flowers and gaily decorated. There are 44 bathtubs ringing the property, each brightly painted and planted from the drain up with flowers. The place has character to spare.
It was always a family business. All of Jillian’s kids did turns at the Chattaway; Everett was a waiter.
A waiter with a reputation. “It’s a very famous, very well-known and very true story,” Frers reports.
Everett was mouthy. He was brusque. He could be rude. Customers used to drop by just to get insulted by the big man in the apron; for the most part, they couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not. He was a gifted storyteller, and even his tirades were entertaining.
To everyone except Jillian’s kids, to whom he was incessantly vicious. “And you never knew when, or why,” explains Frers’ daughter, Amanda Kitto, the Chattaway’s manager. “It was never provoked. It was just your turn. He could do it to us, or to Mom. Well, not so much to Mom. He was sometimes so wonderful, and sometimes such a jerk.”
Still, he worked hard, especially after Helen’s death. Everett would come in early, usually before dawn, and stay until closing.
In 1981, after 30 years of leasing the land under their building, he and Jillian bought the site, free and clear.
They were married for 17 increasingly fractious years. “If you insult one more customer,” she eventually told him, “I’m leaving you.” He did, and she did. “I divorced him for being a pri–,” she smiles. But they remained friends even after the divorce, and continued to run the Chattaway together.
Jillian married Warren Frers, one of Everett’s closest friends since their boyhood days in New York. “I married his best friend – and he still loved me,” she says. “And he still loved his best friend.” Warren Frers worked as the Chattaway’s host, although he did not have a financial stake in the restaurant.
It was 1999 – three years before Everett’s death – that Jillian began converting the restaurant’s dingy game room into an “English tea room,” with appropriate furniture, china, silver and decorations. “We did it slowly – we’d buy one table at a time, and chairs to match,” she says. She began calling herself Lady Chattaway, for no other reason that it sounded very British.
Daughter Debbie painted the room in royal blue-and-white; Jillian liked the idea of making an indoor dining room available for regular Chattaway customers, in the unlikely event of chilly weather. She and her girls re-painted the restaurant’s facade, converting its longtime dark green to a cheery and instantly-recognizable pink.
Everett Lund left the Chattaway to his ex-wife in his will. Warren Frers passed away in 2010.
Today, it’s still a family business. Says manager Kitto: “I always tell people, none of us drives a Mercedes; we’re just here doing what we do, and nobody’s wealthy over it. But we love it.
“We support lots of families. Juanita’s been our cook for over 40 years; she raised five kids on her Chattaway salary. And then we have another cook, he’s been here 25 years. My brother’s been here over 30. I’ve been here, on and off, for 30.
“It just kind of sustains us, but it’s such a great place that you want to stay.”