Ted Drewes frozen-custard stands have received so many accolades in the past 89 years, it's hard to keep them straight.
The latest was this week, when Thrillist, a New York City-based website that churns out lists of places to eat, drink and visit, named the family business one of the top 31 ice cream shops in America. There are two locations in South St. Louis.
"Before Shake Shack came along and made the whole 'concrete' thing popular nationwide, there was Ted Drewes," according to the Thrillist write-up.
In 2016, Ted Drewes was picked as the best ice cream store in the world in a World Ice Cream Index contest held by an Ireland-based marketing company called SoolNua. The prize was a foot-tall glass statue shaped like an ice-cream cone with a world globe on top.
"It was a big honor," said co-owner Travis Dillon, 63, husband of founder Ted Drewes Sr.'s granddaughter. "We know that we simply can't be the best in the world, but we have a lot of fans, and apparently they voted."
Closer to home, Ted Drewes has led many St. Louis restaurant polls and appeared in countless newspaper, magazine and online articles over the years.
Its locations on Grand Boulevard and Chippewa Street are considered major tourist attractions, particularly the latter. Chippewa is part of Old Route 66, which draws classic-car enthusiasts and tour buses full of European travelers.
A 2014 Chicago Tribune piece included Ted Drewes as evidence that sweets were almost as important to St. Louis visitors as beer and baseball.
"Hotel concierges in St. Louis say they get this question all the time: 'Where is Ted Drewes?'" it reported.
"At peak times, the stand has 37 employees taking and filling orders and sells as many as 1,400 items in a single night. Customers can call in orders for pickup, and out-of-towners with a hankering for Ted Drewes can arrange to have their order shipped in dry ice."
Metro-east residents can buy Ted Drewes cups, pints and quarts at many Schnucks, Dierbergs, Shop 'n Save and Walgreens stores. Concretes are sold in vending machines at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
Earlier this year, actor and St. Louis native Jon Hamm even mentioned the Ted Drewes "culinary tradition" in an interview with Bon Appetit magazine.
"Danny Meyer included frozen custard in his Shake Shack menu, and Danny’s a St. Louis guy," Jon said. "We went to high school together. That’s probably the food that gets me going the most."
Ted Drewes often is credited for inventing concretes, defined as milkshakes that are so thick you can turn them upside down and they won't spill out. It also serves cones, sundaes and old-fashioned floats and sodas.
How is frozen custard different than soft-serve ice cream?
"It's not frozen custard unless it has at least a 10 percent butter-fat content, and it has to have a certain percentage of egg," Travis said. "Take out the eggs, and it will be just a rich vanilla ice cream."
Travis is married to the former Christy Drewes, granddaughter of the late Ted Sr. and his wife, Mildred, who founded the business in 1929. Christy's father, Ted Jr., 90, operated it until retirement.
Travis works out of the Chippewa location, a white frame building with wooden icicles along gable rooflines. It has 12 service windows, but the line still can stretch half a block on hot summer nights or special occasions.
"We were really busy on Mother's Day," said employee Amanda Antonio, 24, wearing a yellow Ted Drewes T-shirt and ball cap while topping sundaes on a recent weekday. A steady stream of customers seemed undeterred by sprinkling rain.
"You have to listen," Amanda said. "You have to remember the flavors and the sizes that (servers are) calling out. But you get used to it."
Customers that day included Margaret and Glenn Kennedy, of Imperial, Missouri. Glenn ordered The Mildred sundae with butterscotch and pecans.
"I'm getting the Cardinals Sin sundae (with hot fudge and tart cherries) because I'm a Cardinals fan," said Margaret, 75. "I saw an advertisement for it on TV."
The Kennedys have been Ted Drewes customers since they were teenagers living near Grand. One of their most memorable visits was on their son Steve's first birthday in 1971.
"Bob Gibson pitched a no-hitter that day," Glenn said.
Diana Trimarke, of Creve Coeur, Missouri, discovered Ted Drewes, which she calls a "St. Louis icon," after moving to the city in 1980. This week, she ordered a Southern Delight sundae with praline pecans and butterscotch.
"My car kind of drives into the parking lot automatically," she joked.
Theodore R. Drewes Sr. was a well-known St. Louis tennis player who won Muny championships every year from 1925 to 1936 and four National Public Parks titles in the 1920s, according to a company history.
Ted Sr. spent winters playing tennis in Florida, where he began selling frozen custard in 1929 to earn extra money, first at a carnival then his own stand. He brought the business to St. Louis the following year with a Natural Bridge location, followed by Grand in 1931 and Chippewa in 1941.
Ted Sr. closed Natural Bridge in the 1950s. Another big change came in 1985, when Chippewa was expanded from five to 12 windows.
"The lines were so long, and we were so stressed," said Travis, a trained accountant who started helping his in-laws in the 1970s. "It took us too long to wait on people. Ted's motto was, 'Our business is service.'"
Ted Drewes is open all year, except for a break from early January through mid-February. In December, the frozen-custard stands double as Christmas-tree lots, where people can buy Canadian balsam firs grown at the company's tree farm in Nova Scotia.
The Dillons employ an average of 65 people, including sons Bryan, 35, and Joshua, 33, making Ted Drewes a fourth-generation family business. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at 4224 S. Grand Blvd. and 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. at 6726 Chippewa St.
"We feel honored that so many people like us," Travis said. "We really are amazed."