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

How one woman transformed a community, put Lake Wales on the map, and sent her soup to the moon.

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.

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.

Bertha Hinshaw opened Chalet Suzanne in the wake of her husband Carl’s passing in 1931, and 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.

Honeymooners in a carriage at Chalet Suzanne.

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

After opening the restaurant from her home, she routinely convinced guests to stay for their vacations and honeymoons, resulting in some of the most popular accommodations in Central Florida.

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

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 an unusual 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 and regular patron James Irwin requested some of the chalet’s “Soup Romaine” be sent to the moon with him on Apollo 15.

When faced with the changing times and a booming housing market, the restaurant’s signature clientele and 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.

Ladies poolside at Chalet Suzanne in 1967.

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

Today, the Hinshaws retain most of the property with the exception of some parcels that were sold at auction in 2014. The former chalet is now known as Refuge on the Ridge, a drug + alcohol rehabilitation center.

Locals still remember Chalet Suzanne as a beloved staple of the Polk County community.

Do you have a memory of Chalet Suzanne? Share it with us — we love living history.

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