The iconic 14-foot-tall root-beer mug that for half a century advertised the location of Ted's Frostop at Calhoun and South Claiborne is once again spinning atop a pole, with its showy neon restored. Since Hurricane Katrina, the venerable sign had become a landmark of a different sort. Toppled by the storm, it had stayed upside-down ever since, a reminder of a disaster whose imprint has faded in this section of Uptown.
The sign restoration is the work of new owners who had fond memories of the old drive-in. The Uptown outpost, started in 1955 by Ted Sternberg, was a trendsetter in its day, arriving on the scene about the same time as the first Burger King and McDonald's.
"Ted owned 14 Frostops at one point in time, and they were wildly popular in the '50s and '60s," said Peter Moss, one of a group of owners. "So when we found out that this place was available, we had to bring it back."
But not too much. "The worst thing we could do would be to spiff things up too much and take away all of its personality," Moss said.
Frostop root beer has been brewed since 1926, when L.S. Harvey first concocted it in Springfield, Ohio. The owners started the drive-in burger chain to promote the drink, and it grew to about 350 franchises by the 1960s.
Today, there are just 14 individually owned Frostops nationwide, including one in LaPlace, which shared its secret sauce recipe with the new owners of Ted's.
It's the chain's giant signs that have stuck in the American consciousness. Online fans have cataloged those that remain. One historian believes the sign at Ted's in New Orleans was the first one erected.
For many New Orleanians, the burger outpost may also conjure memories of afternoons playing pinball.
"I won't name any names, but I knew kids when I was in high school 30 years ago who would go off-campus just to play the pinball machines at Frostop," Moss said. "So many people remember the pinball machines that we brought one in, and now it's in the back room."
One of those ardent pinball players was Adam Marcus, who remembers spending his Saturdays at Frostop playing pinball in the back room. The experience led him to collect vintage pinball machines as an adult.
"I was a regular," Marcus said.
The place still has its regulars, Moss said. One is Raymond Benjamin, a drywall installer and renovator.
"I started going there a while back and now I go every weekday for breakfast and sometimes on the weekend morning with my grandkids and for lunch three or four days a week," Benjamin said. "There's a group of us, maybe 10 or 12, who get together every morning -- electricians, plumbers, all of that."
Benjamin joked that anyone needing help with home repairs could visit the back room at Frostop any morning and find someone to do the job.
"We got a lot of work just talking to other people who eat there all the time like us," Benjamin said.
Sternberg, the founder, is another regular. Now in his 80s, "Mr. Ted" eats there about once a week, catching up with the staff, some of whom have been there for decades.
While Moss sees the sign's restoration as another small benchmark in the city's recovery from Katrina, some customers have told him they will miss the upended sign. But the memory won't be erased completely: The Frostop will still sell T-shirts, worn by the staff since the storm, that have a logo of the upside-down mug.R. Stephanie Bruno is a contributing writer
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