by Shaun Treat
Everyone around WDDI and greater Denton was awful darn sad to learn that beloved “Frosty Mom” Judith Webb passed away this last year on July 27th after nearly 60 years working open to close, serving up smiles six days a week at Frosty Drive In in west Denton across the tracks on Fort Worth Drive. You youngsters or newbies may know it as “Mr. Frosty,” if at all, that place with the cheap burgers and unforgettable homemade root beer Ice cream float in an old 1950s-style drive-in diner, straight out of an episode of Happy Days. The stuff of Texas legend, and just maybe where your (grand)parents first locked eyes under the glow of their neon signs. Mr. Frosty is still a beloved snapshot of 1950s Denton frozen in time for generations to enjoy exactly as it was back in the day.
Even if you don’t know The Fonz or Archie Cunningham from Ron Howard or American Graffiti, chances are someone told you about Mr. Frosty and you’ve made a visit. If not, I apologize. If so, you may know the wall clock and the jukebox don’t work and the neon sign used to have a root beer mug. Y’see, the young Webbs moved from Dallas to open Frosty Drive N in 1954 next to US Hwy 377, with a walk-up stand that soon expanded some indoor seating for cruising car enthusiasts. Locals and classic car clubs have been bringing their families here even before the sign changed to Mr. Frosty in 2007. Your friend’s cool parents may’ve also mentioned Steve's Bar-B-Q Pit, a smoke-covered red-and-yellow striped shack on Bell Avenue famous for their mouth-watering meats until it was destroyed by fire on Easter in 2003 after over 20 years in business. Other longtime Dentonians still pine for Johnnie’s Hamburgers on N. Locust, which served 5 burgers for $1 and a “Big John” that satisfied the most voracious appetite before venturing to the The Rancho drive-in movie! Though long gone now, maybe nostalgia for these vanished favorites helps explain why Mr. Frosty is such a sentimental place for so many Dentonians.
But if you wanna really razz the berries of some Hepcat about their jelly roll or favorite drag deuce greaser, then drop a dime to a gray-haired square about Pat Boone’s Country Inn that used to pull in the family crowds on University Drive between 1958 and 1961. The most famous Favorite Son of Denton you’ve probably pretended to have never heard of, the wholesome Pat Boone was the Back Street Boys spliced with Amy Grant on Billboard’s Top 40 for all the mainstream pearl-clutchers who fretted Elvis’ gyrating hips (once an opening act for Pat) made teenagers feel dirty downstairs. The newlywed Boone came to UNT to study English in 1954, but pursued his passion for music with the Aces of Collegeland and was soon recording hit R&B covers of black artists for Republic Records’ wonderbread audiences. He briefly hosted a campus radio program here at KDNT (as did Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, and Bill Moyers) before he made it big with a string of hit records and TV programs, then returned to open a self-named homestyle restaurant when a Coke was still a dime and the broiled lobster tail was only $2.25!
But the still racially segregated 1950s also meant that across the tracks in East Denton there grew a whole other culinary history. The Sweet Y began as a 1940s café where Mr. Pledge Williams sold pastries and baked pies to his African-American neighbors in southeast Denton, located literally on a “Y” convergence of Robertson and Wye streets, where students from the Fred Moore School would gather for sweet treats. It’s said that sometimes the train would stop on the tracks near The Sweet Y so in-the-know passengers could savor their mouth-watering down-home cooking. When Chester and Helen Chambers took over in the 1960s, The Sweet Y became famously known for its incomparable Soul Food, burgers, fried catfish, and southern style barbeque. The family business and BBQ recipe was passed down to their grandkids, and as recently as 2010 city councilman Kevin Roden enjoyed “the best BBQ in town” as the owner and former fellow councilman Raymond Redmon toured the impressive organic garden of the Sweet Y Café. Sadly, we wonder if Denton has lost yet another culinary and cultural legend to the sands of time, although their still-active website teases a possibility of resurrection. Having once savored their slow-smoked ribs, we sure hope that’s the case.
Of course, here we can only scratch the surface of the nostalgia for Denton’s legendary foods and dining. The Davis Purity Bakery has been a family owned operation making tasty confections since 1953, The Greenhouse still offers live jazz in what was once Selby’s Flowers shop, we all recall the tragic exit of The Flying Tomato pizzaria on Fry (now in Sanger), and the East McKinney Taco Corridor has a business history yet to be written. But you tell us, dear readers, about your picks for Denton’s legendary eateries, past and present, below in the comments. What are your favorite food memories here in Denton? Someone has to school the new college kids. I gotta admit, while I surely like our diverse dining options around Denton today, there are few things on a lovely evening with your sweetie that beats sharing a Mr. Frosty root beer float! Shop local in Denton, y’all, cuz history teaches us that if we don’t use it, we’ll surely lose it.
Back in The Day is an ongoing WDDI contribution from Shaun Treat, an assistant professor in Communication Studies at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc Treat has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of the fine folks with the Denton County Historical Commission and local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past.