The history of the now-extinct Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales, FL

Photo of Chalet Suzanne in 2009

Historic Chalet Suzanne in its final years as a fully operational restaurant and inn, circa 2009 | Photo via Florida Memory.

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What do Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, Johnny Carson, and Kevin Costner have in common? They all dined at Chalet Suzanne, a Lake Wales restaurant and inn that served up lavish french cuisine on one woman’s eclectic china from 1931-2014.

How it started

Bertha Hinshaw opened Chalet Suzanne in the wake of her husband Carl’s passing in 1931 + it quickly became a quintessential landmark of Lake Wales. A newly widowed mother of two young children, Bertha resolved to support her family by capitalizing on her hobby of gourmet cooking. After opening the restaurant from her home, she routinely convinced guests to stay for their vacations + honeymoons, resulting in some of the most popular accommodations in central Florida.

Honeymooners in a carriage at Chalet Suzanne.

Couple enjoying their honeymoon at Chalet Suzanne, circa 20th century | Photo via Florida Memory

Sitting on 100 acres, Chalet Suzanne was not only a restaurant but also a successful inn, soup cannery, vineyard, public airport + runway (convenient for its many high rolling patrons), and shooting range.

In 1943, the chalet was nearly ravaged by a kitchen fire but was rebuilt by Bertha’s son, Carl Jr., who used salvaged stable wood and materials from other buildings on the property. This remodel resulted in a quirky layout with 14 different levels.

Chalet Suzanne's courtyard in 1931.

Chalet Suzanne’s courtyard, circa 1931 | Photo via Florida Memory

Some might say that Chalet Suzanne’s finest hour came in 1971, when astronaut + Chalet Suzanne patron James Irwin, requested some of the chalet’s “Soup Romaine” be sent with him to the moon on Apollo 15.

Fun fact: DYK that our LALtoday team actually made + tried this soup back in 2020? Read about former LALtoday Editor Kaylee’s experience, and why she gave it 3.5/5 moons here.

Ladies poolside at Chalet Suzanne in 1967.

Ladies poolside at Chalet Suzanne, circa 1967 | Photo via Florida Memory

When faced with the changing times and a booming housing market, the restaurant’s signature clientele + exclusive atmosphere dwindled. In 2014, Carl Jr.’s son and daughter-in-law, Eric and Dee Hinshaw, announced that Chalet Suzanne would be closing its doors + encouraged regular customers to enjoy their favorite dishes while they still could.

How it’s going

Today, the Hinshaws retain most of the property with the exception of some parcels that were sold at auction in 2014. Now, the former chalet is known as Refuge on the Ridge, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center serving the men in the community of Lake Wales and beyond. To locals, Chalet Suzanne is still remembered as a beloved staple of the Polk County community.

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