For Scott Redler, it all started in his hometown of St. Louis.
The co-founder of Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers made breakfast for his family as a kid and helped his mother and grandmother in the kitchen on a regular basis.
“I always had a passion for food,” he said.
Redler used that passion to help build Freddy’s into one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the United States, with about 400 locations in operation and more slated to open.
Now he’s focused on helping other succeed in the hospitality industry. Redler and his wife, Betsy, recently announced they are donating money to the Butler Community College Foundation to significantly enhance the college’s Culinary and Hospitality program.
The gift will be used to build a new, state-of-the-art teaching and entertaining facility in Andover, near the Dillons Marketplace on Kellogg, on land donated by Vantage Point Properties.
“I’ve been thinking about this for some time,” Redler said. “It’s a dynamic program, and they have accomplished a great deal with the facilities they’ve had. Now we are ready for a facility and teaching team that will make the program known in the Midwest for culinary and hospitality excellence.”
Although plans for the facility are still in preliminary stages, it’s expected to include a venue where the public can enjoy the students’ cooking. The program has operated out of modest quarters in the Boston Recreation Center on South Woodlawn since 2012.
The success of Freddy’s came after Redler had spent decades in the food business, starting at age 15 with a catering company job. Redler managed a steakhouse to put himself through the University of Missouri, earning a degree in hospitality and restaurant management. He ran restaurants in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., then returned to St. Louis to open his first restaurant, a Chinese fast-food restaurant called Shanghai Charlie’s. It lasted a year, a turn of events Redler blames on “location, location, location.”
“My wife calls that my master’s degree,” he said.
After another stint in the nation’s capital, the Redlers — about to have their first child — moved to Wichita so that Scott could take a job with Latour Management, known for such past and present restaurants as Piccadilly Grill, Olive Tree Bistro and Bagatelle. Daughters Katie and Kelly were both born here.
“I was ready to make a change,” Scott said. “It’s the smallest city I’ve ever lived in, but I’ve loved it ever since.”
In 1997, Redler and the late Bill Simon opened Timberline Steakhouse. That chain experienced some success, growing to seven locations in six cities. But it was the Freddy’s concept, started with one location at 21st and Tyler in 2002, that really took off. Redler, Simon and Simon’s brother, Randy, built the restaurant around foods they liked — frozen custard, shoestring fries, Chicago-style hotdogs and steakburgers. They named it for the Simons’ father, Freddy, a World War II veteran who delighted in helping promote the place before his death last year.
“We never imagined that we’d build more than one,” Redler said in a 2017 interview. “We just wanted to serve foods that reminded us of our childhood and growing up.”
Two years later, they began franchising the chain, and within 15 years locations had opened in 30 states.
Redler and Randy Simon sold their majority interest in Freddy’s earlier this year, although both are staying on with the company for the time being.
Redler is a former chairman of the Kansas Restaurant Association and currently sits on the boards of the National Restaurant Association Butler Community College Hospitality board and Kansas State University Hospitality Management program. Both he and Betsy have thrown themselves in other community causes as well. Scott has served on the board and continues to support the Wichita Children’s Home and Senior Services, Inc., while Betsy serves on the Butler CC Foundation board of directors and is a past president of the Junior League of Wichita. The couple endowed a scholarship for the college’s hospitality students three years ago.
“I have a passion for nonprofits,” Scott said. “I love watching people grow and be successful. We try to say ‘yes’ to everything we can.”
Redler’s involvement with Butler goes back more than 25 years. He’s made many presentations to students and hired some, including alums Chris Williams, who manages one of the highest volume Freddy’s (at Maple and Ridge in Wichita) and Curtis Beat, who’s now a Freddy’s franchisee.
Scott Redler still loves cooking for family and friends. He and Betsy are part of one of the city’s longest-running gourmet dinner groups, which has met for monthly meals since 1994 (a group this writer is lucky to be part of).
“The wines have gotten better,” Redler said about the group’s dinners, “but the evenings have gotten shorter.”
Contact Beth Bower at Beth@goodlifeguy.com