Happy Chef founder has all the ingredients for the Hospitality Hall of Fame

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Today, small restaurants owned and operated by the guy (or gal) cooking in the kitchen are known as "chef-driven."

There was no such concept in 1963. That's the year that three Minnesota brothers cooked up a chain of restaurants that were easy to be driven to.

With a statue of a grinning, spoon-hoisting, chef-hat-wearing cook out front, they located the Happy Chef diners along Midwestern highways. At one time there were 80 Happy Chefs employing 3,000 people in seven states.

The Mankato Free Press reports that one of the founding brothers, Tom Frederick Sr., has now been inducted into the Minnesota Hospitality Hall of Fame.

In 2005, the restaurant business began the hall to recognize "the legends" who have made outstanding contributions to the Minnesota hospitality industry. Frederickson's brother Sal was one of the inaugural inductees. Other previous inductees include Pat Murray of Murray's Steakhouse in Minneapolis, Nick Mancini of Mancini's Char House in St. Paul and Charles Pappas of Michael's Restaurant in Rochester.

Tom Frederick, now 82, grew up on the family farm near Madison Lake in southern Minnesota and began working at the local Super Valu grocery store while still in college. After graduation, he and his brothers ran several other restaurants before starting the Happy Chef chain.

Frederick bought out his brothers in the 1980s. The newspaper notes that in the following decade, "...dining habits and driving habits were changing and access to many Happy Chef restaurants were restricted" as new highways were built with fewer ramps and intersections. Frederick sold or leased the Happy Chef locations; some kept the name and others changed it.

Tom Frederick still owns the last remaining Happy Chef restaurant in North Mankato. It was the also the first restaurant for the chain. Roadside America noted the spot has the last of the famous statues as well. Yelp reviewers like the restaurant for its prices, small-town service and familiar diner fare, especially the breakfasts.

The restaurant business is apparently in the Frederick blood. The inductee's son, Tom Frederick Jr., is the co-owner of Pub 500 in Mankato.

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