Vol 7 No. 30 - April 18, 2007

'Grandma Skinny' celebrates 90 years

Grandma Skinny turns 90
Janice Freeman, whose late husband bought the hot dog stand that is now know as Skinny's across from the Manatee County Beach, turns 90 this month and her family will celebrate with her.

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - When Carl and Janice Freeman came to Florida and decided to make Manatee County a part of their lives, it was a great move.

They led a good life, established a business here twice, raised their children and finally the whole family moved here.

Carl passed away in 2001 at the age of 84, but Janice still enjoys the smell of burgers grilling in the salt air and she just happens to be turning 90 this month.

Those burgers and that salt air might have something to do with the fact that she looks no where near her age, but she still remembers how things were and how they got here.

"I was born April 30, 1917, in Champaign County in a town called Ogden, Illinois, during a flu epidemic," she said.

She and Carl first came to Florida in 1936 on their honeymoon, which turned out to be an adventure, as they didn't have a lot of money.

"My husband said, �We'll go as far as the money goes,'" she said. "I told him I hoped it would go as far as Florida. We got here, after wiring home for more money."

She said they went to the east coast of Florida and down south, but ended up in Sarasota where they had friends. She said she remembers coming to Longboat Key, but Anna Maria Island would come later after they went back to Illinois.

They returned to the area in 1952 with their two children and stayed at the Rolling Waves Cabins on Longboat Key, which are still there. They also made it to Anna Maria Island. She remembers getting stuck in the sand in Cortez and getting help from road workers.

"My husband said, �I don't know what we're doing here,' and I said, �As long as we're here, I want to see the Island.'"

They drove around the Island, which was sparsely populated at that time, looking for a place where they might open a restaurant. They stopped at a real estate office in Bradenton Beach and the agent told them about the location where they built Skinny's. Manatee Avenue didn't make it that far yet.

"The public beach was there, but there was only a little hot dog stand here," she said. "We looked it over and determined that it would be the logical location for Manatee Avenue, and we were right. It all seemed to fall into place."

Janice said her husband asked the real estate agent to call the owner of the stand and he said he would, only if they paid for the long distance call. They worked out a deal and took over the business.

"We put in a soda fountain and tried to make it a drive-in restaurant, but that didn't work because of the hot weather," she said. "We had already named it Mid Island Drive In."

They spend part of the year here running this restaurant and part of it in Illinois, running another one. She remembers when the Milwaukee Braves trained in Bradenton, but some of them lived here in the winter.

"They were good customers and nice people," she said.

Janice now lives east of Bradenton, near the Interstate, but she still comes out to Skinny's.

"I come in when I feel like it," she said. "I only feel like it, though, if I don't have to work," she added with a grin.

Her daughter, Jan, still runs the business and her son, Gary, will be down with his family later this month and they might all head for the Keys to celebrate her birthday.

Whether it's the magic from the cooking burgers or the smell of the salt air, life has been good to Janice Freeman. She was able to carry out Carl's last wish and get the family down here to run the business after they had leased it out to Pat Geyer, who ran Duffy's Tavern there until five years ago, and she's hitting a magic age without showing it.

You might stop in and wish her a happy birthday and who knows? You just might start looking a little younger than you are like she does.

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