Chastain's Restaurant

05-16-12


I grew up in Central Florida, and the number one question I received whenever I introduced myself as Tim Chastain was, "Are you related to the Chastains at Chastain's Restaurant?" I still get that question, even though the Orlando landmark closed in 1996.

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Chastain's Restaurant

Chastain Restaurant Index
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Burrell Chastain
Chastain's Restaurant-Orlando Landmark
The Empire Expands
Bill Chastain
The Last Days of the Restaurant
Bill Chastain's Obituary
Create Your Own Memento of Chastain's Restaurant
Other Chastain's Restaurants


Burrell Chastain

Burrel Chastain with his son Bill
Burrell Chastain with his son Bill
Burrell Chastain was born in 1914 in Mitchell, Indiana (Lawrence County), an early center, and still a strong center, for Chastains. A recent mayor of Mitchell was Morris "Butch" Chastain, and his wife was author Nellotie Porter Chastain. Chastain Funeral Home is also in Mitchell. Burrell married Helen Parsley, daughter of Walter and Ellie Parsley. Burrell's parents were Claude Chastain and Blanche (Pickler or Pickles) Chastain. Burrell's descent from Pierre the immigrant is: 1. Pierre; 2. Pierre, Jr. (possible father of); 3. William; 4. Rene Sr.; 5. Rene, Jr.; 6. John; 7. William Henry; 8. Claude C.; 9. Burrell. Burrell's lineage reflects the early migration of a group of Chastains from Virginia, through Kentucky, to Indiana.

After moving to Orlando in 1948, Burrell worked for Herb Waters at Donut Dinette. In 1953, Burrell opened his own restaurant at 7th Street and OBT, which he later sold to Maryland Fried Chicken. In 1956, he took over the restaurant that was to become an Orlando landmark. Note: the six personal photos are courtesy of Amanda Chastain Gufford.

Chastain's Restaurant - Orlando Landmark

Chastain's Restaurant
Chastain's Restaurant
Growing up in the sixties, I thought Chastain's Restaurant had been in Orlando forever, but Burrell and Helen Chastain moved to Central Florida from Indiana in 1948, and in 1956, they took over the former Arrowhead Restaurant at 23 North Orange Blossom Trail. That was the year AFTER my family moved to the area from Alabama. At that location, the Chastains began a forty-three year Chastain's Restaurant tradition.

The Old Arrowhead Restaurant
Old Arrowhead Restaurant
Chastain's Restaurant was one of the most well-known places in Orlando. It was located on Highway 441, between Central and Washington, in a busy commercial area of Orlando about six blocks south of the crossroads of the two major routes through the city: Orange Blossom Trail (Highway 441), also known as OBT, traveled north-south and Colonial Drive (Highway 50) went east-west. Just about everyone in Central Florida passed through this intersection all the time.

Gatorland in Orlando
Gatorland in Orlando
Wigwam Village in Orlando
Wigwam Village in Orlando
One of Florida's big tourist attractions was Gatorland, a few miles further south from Chastain's on 441, so tourists had to pass right by the prominent, well-lit restaurant. Many of them spent the night at the nearby Wigwam Village just down the street from the restaurant before enjoying an exciting day at Gatorland.

Truckers also used these roads, and Chastain's Restaurant accommodated them with a large parking lot in the back for the big rigs along with traditional home cooked truckers' fare.

Burrell knew how to feed truckers, for he, himself, had been a truck driver before coming to Florida. The cuisine was American country-style cooking, and the menu hardly changed for forty years. The restaurant cut its own meat and bacon, and Burrell was a stickler for fresh vegetables, going regularly to Tampa for the best selection. The Chastains developed a loyal local clientele, as well, with generous helpings and a friendly environment. Regulars ate there for decades, and they ordered from waitresses who worked there for decades and who knew all the regular customers by name.

Chastain's Restaurant was open 24 hours and attracted a remarkable diversity of patrons. Burrell's and Helen's son Bill Chastain, who worked in the restaurant since he was a child, said, "During lunch, you'd be surprised who's out there. State Attorneys, Attorney Generals, the sheriff, different judges, and the Harley-Davidson guys." And in a February 23, 2003 Orlando Sentinel Article, Jeff Kunerth described the same thing:

It had honey jars on every table, Formica tables and green vinyl booths, and Brenda Lee, Patti Page and Elvis on the jukebox…The menu was truck-stop fare -- steak and eggs, hot biscuits, fried chicken, bottomless cups of coffee -- but the clientele was cross-sectional Orlando. Politicians, policemen, clergy, businessmen, truck drivers, motorcyclists, secretaries, car dealers, athletes, salesmen, bankers.

Chastain's Restaurant Postcard
Chastain's Restaurant Postcard
Chastain's became a community meeting place for locals. It was a place for eating but also a place for discussion ranging from gossip to serious business and political planning. Chastain's was a place where Central Florida residents of all walks of life rubbed elbows and got to know each other. In the 1970s, Black ministers joined the mix, meeting at Chastain's for breakfast four or five days a week to discuss current events and civil rights issues. In the early days of the Orlando Magic, Pat Williams plotted college draft strategy there.

Chastain's had a number of specialties, but among the favorites was biscuits and honey. Honey dispensers were provided at every table. The general community filled the restaurant on Sundays and on holidays. Chastain's had a traditional special for Thanksgiving, and on Easter they colored hundreds of dozens of eggs to hide in the bushes for the kids to find.

The restaurant received positive reviews from Orlando Sentinel restaurant critic Scott Joseph in 1993 and 1995; Lawson Lamar and the people at the courthouse were always saying good things about Chastain's. The Chastain's friendliness and connection to the community went beyond the restaurant environment and is illustrated by the 1960 incident of Hurricane Donna, the most devastating hurricane to hit Orlando before the multiple hurricanes of 2004. When the city lost power for several days, much of people's food went bad. The food at Chastain's Restaurant was protected by dry ice. Burrell Chastain activated his gas grill and served free food to 1,500 of his neighbors, including the police. This was the kind of people the Chastains were. Even though the food was free, the girls received great tips! The Chastains received many nice letters about the event, including one from Sheriff Dave Starr.

Another feature that added to the distinctiveness of the restaurant was the two-story lighted glass booth on the front parking lot. It contained the air conditioning unit for the restaurant but also served as a performance venue. It was called the owls nest, and The 5 Owls, a country-western band, performed there. In a day before remote broadcast trucks, it was sometimes used for live radio broadcasts by disc jockeys from stations such as WFIV-AM (1080) and WHOO-AM (990), ballgames were broadcast from there on Friday nights, and it also served other purposes. Mickey Evans also broadcasted her music from there. One could sit in the parking lot and see the performers or DJs in the booth. Passing cars would honk at the DJs. Visitors could access the booth by a spiral staircase.

The Empire Expands

Chastain's Restaurant in Cocoa, Florida
Chastain's Restaurant in Cocoa, Florida

Burrell took over a restaurant lounge and bar on Highway 1 at the southeast corner of King Street and Brevard Avenue in Cocoa, Florida, which he named Chastain's Restaurant. It was about an hour or so away from the main restaurant in Orlando.

Before the Cocoa restaurant was built, the lot was occupied by a large chinaberry tree. During World War II, a lifeboat from a British freighter was displayed on the site. The freighter had been torpedoed off the coast of Cocoa Beach by the Germans, and the lifeboat was riddled with bullets from a German U-boat; it was said that twelve men were killed in the boat. A sign above the lifeboat read, "Buy Bonds".

Chastain's Restaurant Ashtray
Chastain's Restaurant Ashtray
An ashtray can still be found occasionally that advertises the two main restaurants. It reads:

"Serving Good Food for Fine People; Chastain's; 23 N. Orange Blossom Tr., Orlando, Fla; Cor. Brevard & King Sts, Cocoa, Fla". About 1964, Burrell took over the Donut Dinette on Mills and called it Chastain's Restaurant also.

Around 1961, Hollace A. Chastain, a close relative of Burrell's, bought his Chastain's Restaurant in Cocoa from him. Hollace Chastain was born in Lawrence County, Indiana, the same as Burrell. After a career in the Army, the retired Colonel Chastain moved to Florida from Sacramento, California.

Cocoa was the town for the Cape Canaveral Space Center, and the restaurant was very popular during the Mercury space program. One patron remembers, 'The section facing Brevard Avenue had a counter and booths, and served mostly soup, sandwiches, and short orders, and was open for breakfast and lunch, as I recall. The section facing King Street had a dining room and cocktail lounge, and was a wonderful place to go for dinner in the evening.'

The Chastain's Restaurant in Cocoa closed in September, 1967, due primarily to loss of parking across the street; so it was open only a few years, unlike Chastain's Restaurant in Orlando which was open more than forty years. However, Hollace Chastain operated other restaurants in Central Brevard County, Florida including a Burger Chef in Rockledge from 1970 to 1982 and a Hardees from 1982 to 1986, also in Rockledge. After the Chastain's Restaurant closed, the building became the Cocoa office of stockbrokers Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.

Bill Chastain

Bill Chastain
Bill Chastain
William Russell Chastain was born January 15, 1941 in Indianapolis, Indiana and moved with his parents to Florida in 1948, but he grew up in Orlando. In fact, he grew up at the restaurants! He was only six when his family moved from Indiana in 1948, and most of what he remembered from the old state was the snow and cold in the winter along with the heavy heat of summer. He attended Hillcrest Elementary in Orlando; then he went on to Howard Junior High and to Edgewater High when it opened.

Bill at Edgewater Highschool in 1959
Edgewater HS 1959
Bill worked in the main restaurant from the time it opened; he was 14. His first job in the restaurant was dip-out man at a steam table, and he also helped in the kitchen, peeled potatoes, and put up stock. As he got older, it became his responsibility to make the doughnuts, which he did every morning before attending Edgewater High School, and after school he made more doughnuts; his father required fresh doughnuts. Bill rotated shifts with his father and mother, so that one of them would be present at all times during the 24 hour a day operation. After high school, Bill attended Orlando Junior College (now Valencia). He was in the army active reserve for a short time around 1961.

Eventually, Bill took over the business after Burrell Chastain died in 1979. Bill's mother Helen continued to work in the restaurant until her death; she died Sunday, February 4, 1990 at 73 after suffering a stroke. By that time, Bill lived in Windermere and his sister Judith lived in Gainesville. The family had lived in Colonialtown until the late fifties, and Judith had worked the restaurant in its early years, but she had married and gone in another direction.

Bill in Chastain's Restaurant
Bill in Chastain's Restaurant
Bill was an active member of both the Florida and National Restaurant Associations. Also during this time, he raised 500 head of Black Angus cattle and was a member of the National Angus Association. Bill's wife and daughters were not interested in working in the restaurant at all, though the kids did some. He was familiar with the Chastain's Restaurant in Folkston, Georgia and even ate there several times, but it was not connected to the Orlando restaurant, and the two Chastain families did not know each other except as restaurant owners.

Bill, Kaye, and Duke
Bill, Kaye, and Duke
In addition to his restaurant life, Bill was one of the earliest members of Florida Citrus Sports and remained an active member and bowl scout since 1972. Other memberships included the Citrus Club, the West Orange Country Club, The Orlando Elks, the Loyal Order of Moose, and Brothers of Other Mothers. He was also honored for donating over seventeen gallons of blood to the Central Florida Blood Bank throughout his life.

Bill's parents were Methodist, and his mother attended the Methodist Church downtown, but Bill's wife, Kaye, was Baptist, so Bill became involved in the Baptist Church where he was faithful until his death. He was very active at The First Baptist Church of Windermere and his Sunday school class, and he regularly attended a Monday night Bible study class.

Bill Chastain descends from Pierre Chastain, the immigrant. His descent is: 1. Pierre; 2. Pierre, Jr. (possible father of); 3. William; 4. Rene Sr.; 5. Rene, Jr.; 6. John; 7. William Henry; 8. Claude C.; 9. Burrell; 10. Bill.

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The Last Days of the Restaurant

Chastain's remained a landmark even as Orlando changed around it. Disney, Universal, and Sea World replaced Gatorland as the main tourist destination; and Interstate 4 and toll-roads replaced Highways 441 and 50 as primary traffic arteries through town. Chastain's began closing at 10 p.m. One thing that really hurt area was that downtown Orlando did not want to reach west of Division. Orange Blossom Trail (Highway 441) took on a new character. Regular commerce sprang up in newer parts of Orlando and dimmed on "The Trail", which became known for drugs, nude bars, and prostitution. Chastain's outside glass booth was finally boarded up because vandals kept throwing rocks at the glass. In the 1980s, Chastain's Restaurant dropped dinner from its menu and changed its hours to 5:30-3 p.m.

Ticket to the Rolling Stones at the Tangerine Bowl
Ticket to the Rolling Stones at the Tangerine Bowl
Even as the area began to decline, Chastain's saw its biggest days ever. On October 24th and 25th, 1981, The Rolling Stones, opened by Van Halen, played two concerts in the nearby Citrus Bowl (then called the Tangerine Bowl), drawing 60,000 fans for each, and Chastain's was packed!

The 1994 World Cup games at the Citrus Bowl provided a similar boost. The five games between June 19 and July 4 averaged more than 61,000 fans. Chastain's Restaurant was swarmed by the World Cup crowds, though some of the regulars understandably stayed away during the sixteen-day period.

The 1994 World Cup at Orlando
1994 World Cup
The World Cup proved to be the last hurrah, however. By October local independent restaurateurs were reeling from news that another Orlando landmark, Gary's Duck Inn, had closed its doors. This followed the closing in 1993 of two other local restaurants, Chris's House of Beef and Gus' Villa Rosa. Gus' happened to be one of Bill Chastain's favorite places to dine out. Remaining restaurant owners debated the future of independent restaurants in Central Florida. Bill Chastain remarked, "There's just so much expense to staying in business that we didn't have before. I think we're just going to be extinct someday." In February 1995, the landmark Ronnie's Restaurant closed.

For Chastain's Restaurant, the situation was aggravated by a long period of road construction through part of which the restaurant had no front parking space. In addition his daughters were not interested in going into the restaurant business, so Bill was alone. Bill became tired from the constant attention required by the restaurant; he could not even help his college daughters move into their dorms because he could not be away from the restaurant for more than an hour or so. With the area falling into decline, Bill decided he did not want to die on OBT (Orange Blossom Trail). Once he made the decision to close, it was only about two months before Chastain's Restaurant served breakfast on Tuesday, September 3, 1996, its last meal, and joined Chris's House of Beef, Gus' Villa Rosa, Gary's Duck Inn, and Ronnie's Restaurant in closing up shop.

Al's Army Store at 23 North Orange Blossom Trail
Al's Army Store at 23 North OBT
On Saturday, September 21, Absolute Auctions handled the disposal of property and memorabilia. The land and building were sold immediately to investors who owned the U-Save Bargain Paneling and Plywood company next door, but they had no intention of expanding their own company. Instead, they hoped to re-sell it to someone who would re-open it as a restaurant because they felt the area needed it. A barbeque restaurant showed some interest, but in the end the building sat there until it was torn down in January 1998 to make room for a 14,000 square-foot Al's Army Store Warehouse which still occupies that address.

Bill saved artifacts and mementos to create Chastain's West in his game room at home. It includes Booth 5, a chandelier, a jukebox with its old record selection, a green Hamilton Beach malted-milk machine, and framed news articles, menus, and place mats. The radio booth's spiral iron stairway goes up to a second-story deck.

Years after retirement, Bill had a total knee replacement -- one last result of many years of standing on hard restaurant floors. Bill and Kaye continued to enjoy their home, where Bill worked in the yard, and they travelled! Even though Bill Chastain closed the restaurant in 1996, Chastain's was such a landmark that, even after so many years, some residents who have no cause to pass through the old crossroads are unaware that it no longer exists.

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Bill Chastain Obituary

Bill's Family
Bill's Family
On Wednesday, February 1, 2012 we received the sad news from his wife Kaye that Bill Chastain had passed away on January 30 at 71 years of age. He died at his Windermere home, surrounded by his family, after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He had taken a turn for the worse and was admitted to the hospital. After two days, he returned home with Hospice care, where he expired four days later on Monday. His end came quickly and peacefully in the presence of his family reading to him from Psalm 103.

Bill is survived by his wife Kaye, his daughters Amanda Gufford and Alison Brackins, who both live in Orlando, and grandchildren Courtney Catherine Gufford and Russell Jackson Brackins. He was looking forward to the arrival of his third grandchild (another grandson) in May 2012. He was predeceased by his parents, his sister Judith Chastain Woodward, and a daughter Amy Ellen Chastain. His obituary was printed in the Orlando Sentinel (section B8) on February 1, 2012, and there is an online memorial at Dignity.

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Create Your Own Memento of Chastain's Restaurant

When Chastain's Restaurant was still open, an Orlando Sentinel reader named Joe Schmerler requested the recipe for the restaurant's cornbread. The recipe was printed in the Sentinel on January 11, 1996.

Chastain's Restaurant's Corn Bread

Yield: 10 to 12 servings
3 cups of self-rising cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup Wesson oil

1. Heat oven to 375 F.
2. Mix together cornmeal, flour, sugar and salt. Stir in buttermilk and beaten eggs. Mix well.
3. Pour Wesson oil into deep 10-by-12-inch pan. Place baking pan in oven and heat.
4. Pour batter into heated pan and bake 15 to 20 minutes or until brown. Turn pan upside down to remove.

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