MANKATO – The Happy Chef restaurant and adjoining property are for sale. It’s the original and surviving restaurant from a collection of 63 that were once operated in the Midwest by the Fredrick brothers.
“We’re still in business,” said Tom Fredrick, 81. “We’re going to stay in business.”
Mention Happy Chef and many people think of the towering, round Happy Chef figure that stood in front of numerous restaurants — and remains smiling today next to Hwy. 169 as you enter Mankato. Mention Happy Chef to others and they think of something else near extinction: men’s fastpitch softball.
There was a group of fast-pitchers that played out of Mankato starting in the late 1960s. They played Class AA (major) fastpitch through 1990. You could bring in players from anywhere and pay outsiders, if necessary.
The team had a variety of sponsors in the 1970s. Happy Chef took over sponsorship for the Class AA team from 1980 through 1990, and then for five more years with a Class A team.
“You could never work with a better sponsor than Tom,” said Marley Lloyd, an outstanding center fielder and promoter for Happy Chef. “We could fly to national tournaments while other teams took a bus.”
Happy Chef competed at the highest level in the International Softball Congress. If it happened to miss the ISC World Series (unlikely), the fallback was the ASA national tournament.
“We had Dale Root from Sheffield, Iowa, as our pitcher earlier in the ’70s,” Lloyd said. “Dale was one of the five best pitchers in the country. When he went back to Iowa, we brought in Leroy Jolstad in 1977. There weren’t many better pitchers in the world than Leroy.”
There was a home doubleheader on most summer Wednesdays and it would draw big crowds at Caswell Park.
“In the ’70s, Bob Darling from the [Mankato] Free Press would go with us to weekend tournaments,” Lloyd said. “We always made sure there was a brandy and Coke for Bob. He gave us great coverage. And our games were on KTOE radio.
“Fastpitch was the summer attraction in Mankato.”
Plus Three From Patrick
Happy Chef fast-pitchers noted for other athletic achievements:
Wayne Haefner: “Lefty” was an outfielder on the Gophers’ 1960 national champions. He coached and taught at Mankato Loyola and was a fastpitch standout.
Vernon Schoolmeester: A basketball scoring machine for Edgerton from 1962 to 1965. Second baseman for Happy Chef.
Jeff Nessler: Famously, threw in a half-court shot to give St. James the 1972 Class A title over Melrose. Shortstop for Happy Chef.