TAMPA — It was hard to separate Goody Goody restaurant from Yvonne Freeman.
Mrs. Freeman, 91, who died Sept. 5, was known as the “Hamburger Queen of Tampa” and the longtime sole protector of the restaurant’s original secret sauce recipe. She knew the names and orders of everyone who came in regularly, and everyone who came in regularly knew her smile.
She is remembered as the “backbone” of the restaurant.
Mrs. Freeman was born in Crystal Springs and started working at the restaurant —first as a carhop — in 1947, the year she married Arlie Freeman, who she’d met in high school before he left for World War II. She later became a waitress, cook and then co-manager. She had five boys and later 11 grandkids, some who would eventually work alongside her.
She worked through the age of Tampa’s streetcars, before McDonald’s opened its first location in the country, and continued through the age of fast food trends and then healthier eating. She worked through the abandonment and resuscitation of Tampa’s downtown.
She’d once fed Col. Harland Sanders, the founder of KFC. She’d watched President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade pass by. She’d fed the Hollywood cast and crew of The Punisher with John Travolta, when a scene was filmed at the restaurant.
“She’d seen all of life from that little restaurant,” Doug Freeman, her youngest son, said.
In 1980, the restaurant was bought by Mike Wheeler, an accountant who knew Mrs. Freeman as a waitress from the time his dad took him as a kid to eat at Goody Goody. He leased it out and made renovations to the restaurant, then on Florida Avenue, but closed it in 1984.
A few months later, Wheeler said, Mrs. Freeman and another waitress, Lorene Green, walked into his office. Mrs. Freeman told him she would like to run it.
Her son said his mother needed Goody Goody as much as it needed her.
“She found herself lost without it,” Doug Freeman said. “She’d said there’s no other place for me but the Goody Goody. ... It’s what kept her going.”
Mrs. Freeman began leasing the space from Wheeler, while continuing as a waitress and making the special sauce and homemade pies by hand — including the famous butterscotch recipe. In the evenings, if there were extra pies, she’d bring them home for her sons.
The lemon pie was always Doug’s favorite, he said, and he later learned her secret sauce recipe and helped her in the kitchen for nine years. His kids also later worked at the restaurant for a time.
“No matter what, you’re not going to be as good as a waitress as my mom was,” Doug Freeman said. “You’re always going to play second fiddle to her. You walk into the restaurant and she’s already smiling. ... She made you feel good. She made you happy. She made you comfortable.”
Filmmaker Lynn Dingfelder, who produced the documentary Goody Goody: Past, Present and Future, said there was hardly anyone who didn’t know her, from prominent judges to the average diner who walked in once.
“It’s a real loss for our community,” she said. “So many people loved her. She built up this wonderful restaurant, and yet there was nothing pretentious about her. She worked long hours. … She was delightful. She was a real lady and a hard-working mom.”
Goody Goody closed in 2005 when a developer bought the property. In 2014, when Richard Gonzmart bought the restaurant, Mrs. Freeman was vital in the relaunch, preparing the special sauce with her son for the new owners and sharing the long-guarded recipes.
“We wanted to make sure when we re-opened in Hyde Park that we got it right,” Michael Kilgore, chief marketing officer of the Columbia Restaurant Group, said. “People remembered Goody Goody with such fondness and such love. ... Yvonne was a link to Tampa’s colorful past. ”
When it reopened in 2015, Mrs. Freeman was a celebrity, Kilgore said, with customers asking her for autographs and asking if she remembered them from a decade before. She did.
Wheeler said she was excited to be a part of resurrecting Goody Goody.
“It was really about keeping the Goody Goody alive,” he said. “It’s part of Tampa’s history. The Goody Goody was a melting pot. Every type of person who was raised in Tampa went there.”
Dingfelder said she wanted to see the culture of the restaurant live on.
“She was glad to see it come back alive,” she said. “It was like another child of hers. She was the spirit of the place.”
YVONNE B. FREEMAN
BORN: July 27, 1928.
DIED: Sept. 5, 2019.
SURVIVED BY: Four sons: Larry, Wayne, Bobby and Doug Freeman and 11 grandchildren. Preceded in death by Arlie Freeman (husband) and Gary Freeman (son).