Maybe, if you're on the particularly young end of the millennial spectrum, your grandparents told you stories that started with “We went down to the soda fountain,” and you had absolutely no idea what that meant. You had never seen somewhere that made beverages and ice cream from scratch, paired alongside diner classics and the pseudo-1950s aesthetic, except maybe for Sonic.
It’s not your fault because as a whole, the pharmacy soda fountain concept has drastically been passed over in favor of faster and cheaper options. Sodas and shakes have taken a backseat to make room for the food to be the star of the dining experience.
In Dallas, the only major player in the classic soda fountain industry is Highland Park Soda Fountain, a DFW classic since 1912. Mary Duncan, its assistant manager, says authenticity and a commitment to quality are what makes it succeed.
“Where can you go and get a from-scratch soda? Where can you go and go back in time and sit on a stool and get a Coke or a Diet Coke made from scratch?” Duncan asks. “Kids nowadays don’t even know what that is, [or] ice cream sodas, it’s kind of like a float, but ice cream sodas, I don’t know of anybody that serves them or a phosphate or an egg cream.”
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The concept that has grown in contrast to the decline of soda fountains, especially in the last few months in Dallas, is the craft ice cream shop. Places that make their products in house or source from a nontraditional provider have exploded in Dallas. Twisted Treats in Deep Ellum, Botolino Gelato Artigianale on Lower Greenville, Azucar in Bishop Arts, Betty Ringer in Sylvan Thirty and Hypnotic Emporium near White Rock Lake have helped raise the barrier to entry for new ice cream in DFW.
“We started Hypnotic Emporium for the simple love of ice cream and the fact that there was not a place close to us,” says James St. Peter, founder of Hypnotic Donuts and Hypnotic Emporium. “We want to create an experience, not just serve ice cream. Our concept is based on the soda fountains you used to find back when they were located in drugstores. Also, there is plenty of classic candy to help bring back that nostalgic feel. However, we also have very modern items, like ice cream-stuffed donuts and cones wrapped in cotton candy.”
With stores like Creamistry on Lower Greenville making ice cream with liquid nitrogen and craft soda producers like Oak Cliff Beverage Works popping up at restaurants around the city, history seems to be repeating itself. Once again, ice cream, specialty soda, shaved ice and frozen pops are trendy.
But instead of a 1950s-style one-stop shop for all kinds of remedies to the heat, these family friendly dessert cafes have split into separate entities. Consider Lower Greenville, for instance: There are unorthodox sodas at Truck Yard, specialty pops at Steel City Pops, gelato from Botolino Gelato Artigianale, macaron ice cream sandwiches at Joy Macarons, chocolate soft serve at Dude, Sweet Chocolate, coffee and juice at Mudsmith and food all around. The classic soda fountain and its ability to rejuvenate never left; it merely spread out to cover more ground as those kids spinning on the barstools grew old, but not up.