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The Goody Goody diner may be gone, but a family restaurant is resurrecting the signature Secret Sauce.
By John Barry, Times Staff Writer
Published January 4, 2008
The Pine Grove Family Restaurant, 9399 N Florida Ave., Tampa, is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, except on Sundays, when the restaurant closes at 3 p.m. (813) 933-2795.
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TAMPA - The Goody Goody Hamburger With Secret Sauce was back. Yvonne Freeman was the first to find out. The hidden-away recipe had just been rented to a family restaurant. Yvonne was summoned to show the owner there how to cook it.
Tampa's famous old Goody Goody hamburger drive-in closed in 2005. Yvonne had walked out on Florida Avenue, waved at the soon-to-be flattened diner she had managed and said, "Goodbye, Pandora's Box." The restaurant was 80. She was 77.
As a car hop in 1947 and through grandmotherhood, Yvonne hefted tens of thousands of platters of Goody Goody Hamburgers With Secret Sauce. Besides the 10 years she took off to raise five children, she can't recall one vacation.
At 77, she was the Hamburger Queen of Tampa.
Yvonne quit cooking hamburgers, with or without Secret Sauce. She quit eating meat. As she puts it, she was "afraid to look at a cow."
Her favorite meal?
"Peanut butter on a single slice of bread."
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Outside the Pine Grove Family Restaurant, one side of a marquee now proclaims: "The Original Goody Goody Hamburger." Greg Alexopoulos, whose Greek family owns the restaurant, didn't have enough Gs for both sides of the sign.
Greg just made a deal with Michael Wheeler, one of his lunch customers. Michael was the last owner of the old Goody Goody. Greg, who grew up in Chicago, hadn't heard of it and had never tasted the Secret Sauce, but many of his customers talked about it.
Michael Wheeler, 66, had grown up on Goody Goody Hamburgers. He ate his first one when he was 10. He bought the restaurant in 1980 - the third owner. The original Goody Goody had opened in 1925. It had been the first drive-in restaurant "east of the Mississippi," or so goes Tampa legend. Everyone in town went there.
Yvonne had always scribbled "- POX" on her waitress pad. The "-" stood for hamburger; "POX" stood for pickles, onions and sauce. Yvonne never scribbled "POS" on her pad because the cook would think that meant "pickles, onions and sugar."
After Michael bought the restaurant in 1980, he leased it to Yvonne but kept his hand in. They had an arrangement: "Whoever is closest to the broom sweeps the floor."
Like Yvonne, Michael had five children. Said Michael, "We think Goody Goody gets you pregnant." After enough babies and hamburgers, Michael sold the land under the place for $1.25-million in 2005.
He hid the recipe at home.
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Michael often ate lunch at the Pine Grove. He liked the family ownership. The Alexopouloses own three restaurants, the others in Pinellas Park and Ruskin. At the Pine Grove, Greg bakes the pies, his mother, Theoni, cooks the spaghetti sauce. Michael convinced Greg that the recipe would attract long-neglected Secret Sauce aficionados.
They signed a contract:
- The Secret Sauce was to forever remain Secret. Only Greg and Theoni would know its ingredients.
- The hamburger was to be a quarter pound, as it always was. It was to be served on a 4-inch bun, toasted. It was to have three pickle slices - not two, not four. It was to be slathered in exactly 2 ounces of Secret Sauce, then sprinkled with raw onions - in chunks, not too finely chopped.
Contract signed, Yvonne was escorted to the kitchen. While she directed, Greg made his first batch of sauce, then cooked up five test patties.
The sign outside proclaimed the return of the Goody Goody Hamburger.
Shortly after, Michael stopped in for lunch. The place was mobbed. Greg and Theoni had run out of 4-inch buns. Pandemonium took hold. They sent Michael on an emergency Wal-Mart bun run. He got lost.
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Theoni Alexopoulos sits at the counter beside son Greg. She has a slight Greek accent, an exotic Mediterranean presence.
"I make the best spaghetti sauce," she says. "It has a unique taste. It's very famous, too.
"It takes about six hours. It's a Greek-Italian recipe. It has 10 or 15 ingredients.
Theoni has not cooked the Secret Sauce herself. She lets Greg cook it.
“I know what’s in it.”
She looks about to say more. Greg looks startled.
Theoni looks at her son. “It’s a secret?”
“Come back and try my spaghetti.”
John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2258.
[Last modified January 3, 2008, 10:42:14]