Old Town Slidell Soda Shop History
It’s a place they remember going to as kids—a place where birthday parties were held, a place where many Slidell residents say they’ve enjoyed homemade ice cream and old-fashioned soda—that being the Old Town Soda Shop.
The 1960s soda shop replica opened 24 years ago in 1988 but closed in August 2005. Since closing, many locals have been eager to learn if the shop would ever open again.
Soda jerks will once again be able to concoct carbonated beverages onsite because the Old Town Soda Shop will open its doors once again today.
The light blue building off First and Cousin Streets has been grafittied by none other than its previous owner, Frank Jackson, who initially had no plans to reopen the historic soda shop.
Jackson is a known figure in the community especially for putting on the annual Slidell Barbeque Challenge.
While Jackson stayed at in house on the second floor of a building off First Street, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and brought with it six feet of water, which submerged the soda shop and ruined all of the shop’s specialized machinery.
Jackson left his house the following morning and painted an image of a fish, boat and red waves, which symbolized how high the water had reached, or the waterline.
The Old Town Soda Shop’s new owner Morris Hawkins, also owner of Addictions Counseling and Educational Resources, says he will have someone repaint the buildings exterior wall but will also keep the pictorial Jackson painted and seal it with varnish.
Some consider the reopening of the soda shop a milestone in Slidell’s Olde Towne District, which still has a number of vacancies due to the hurricane. How Hawkins and Jackson came to together to tag team the redevelopment one of Slidell’s most popular venues is quite the story.
Hawkins, a nurse by trade, owns three ACER locations and says one of his clinical directors, Adrianne Trogden, came up with an idea of integrating individuals in the community committed to changing their lives after battling substance abuse into business environments. Hawkins said that many people, who get through the initial phase of treatment, following addiction, sometimes have problems adapting back into the workforce.
Trogden’s vision was to instill positive qualities back into the lives of people who may have lost basic essential resources such as how to present oneself to a client or budget a balance, and even how to act during an interview.
“I suggested lets approach Frank with the idea,” said Hawkins. “If (the clients) can get through that initial phase of treatment, committed to changing their lives, we can add this kind of job training proponent. So I approach Frank with the idea and surprisingly he was open to the idea.”
ACER has an office just next door to the Old Town Soda Shop. Hawkins and his business pay rent to none other than owner of the building and previous owner of the soda shop, Jackson. Because of this, the partnership easily came into fruition.
Jackson will lease the second building to Hawkins; this same building will house the Old Town Soda Shop LLC.
In the beginning, several things helped push the shop into redevelopment. One thing in particular was Hawkins pledged a commitment to Jackson that he’d deal with the permits, the banks, and would also find employees so that Jackson wouldn’t have to “live” in the building or work 70 hours a week as he had in the past.
“I told him that I would run the back side of the business,” said Hawkins.
In November 2011, there was a planning meeting where the City of Slidell discussed a café reconcile project. Hawkins brought up the idea of bringing back the Old Town Soda Shop. He said the enthusiasm shot to the roof. City of Slidell Planning Director Tara-Ingram Hunter said she and the city would do whatever they could do to help, Hawkins said.
Weeks went by and the Christmas holidays came. During that time, Jackson’s mother became ill and passed away.
To Hawkins, this event really made Jackson reflect back on his life.
“Shortly after Christmas, I’ll never forget, we had a long conversation, (Frank and I). I was backing out to leave and I was probably around the outside of the porch (of ACER) and we had a conversation, it must have lasted 45 minutes and I could tell the love for that business was really starting to come out,” said Hawkins.
In the following weeks, Hawkins went before the city administration to try and get the ball rolling. He said a code inspector came out to the shop and a St. Tammany Fire Protection District 1 Fire Prevention Officer also came out and said he’d do anything to help.
“For Frank, that was really the touchstone for him to go forward because his greatest battles in the past has been with the city and trying to get something open,” said Hawkins.
Jackson had been a contractor for a number of years before owning the soda shop. He event went back to working in construction following Katrina because times were favorable for development and construction companies looking to rebuild south Louisiana.
Hawkins later met with a contractor to discuss construction plans for the new shop. It was the event that followed that really put the Old Town Soda Shop back into reality, Hawkins said.
Fred Oberkirch, who worked for Slidell Equipment Company, contacted Jackson and told him that specialized machinery that could be used for soda shop was available at a discounted price at a casino in Tunica, Miss. All they had to do was pick up the equipment.
“Everything that’s in the shop now, just about, a lot of the stuff came from that purchase,” said Hawkins.
Pieces from the casino include old-fashioned blue-colored leather chairs, floor and wall-mount jukeboxes, tables, soda dispensers and even glass and stainless steel stands.
Hawkins says the Old Town Soda Shop will be very similar to the previous one, serving—ice cream, snoballs, candy, sandwichs, and sodas. Jackson has even brought back the old fire truck, which was once used to tour children around Olde Towne Slidell during birthday parties.
The second-floor “birthday room” is back, and additional meeting rooms have been installed and will be available for rental.
Although Hawkins has footed a lot of responsibility in unearthing the soda shop back from its historic status, he says he couldn’t have done it without his business partner Jackson.
“Frank has been one of the main people to oversee and help with the work,” said Hawkins. “He’s going to shortly convert from assistant contractor, overseer, to the guy that makes the ice cream.”
Hawkins says they’re not calling Wednesday’s milestone a “grand opening,” but a “soft opening.”
“Based on what’s happened, I don’t know how ‘soft’ it’ll be,” said Hawkins in relation to the overwhelmingly positive response they’ve received about the Old Town Soda Shop opening up again.
According to Hawkins, the overall intention is to provide a place for people who have changed their lives and are looking to adapt back into society through business means.
“I’m really excited to see the integration of jobs training for ACER—it’s not going to come till sometime next year—basically what I know is going to happen is it’s going to be high demand initially and then as any business does, it will taper off,” said Hawkins.
“So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” added Hawkins.
The Old Town Soda Shop in Slidell will be open daily, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m