The History of Soda Jerks

12 Jun

artist:  Norman Rockwell

First let’s start by defining “Soda Jerk.” The term Soda Jerk came from the action the fountain attendant made when pulling the soda draft arm. This jerking motion coined the phrase “Soda Jerk.” The origin and date of the phrase are unknown, but became very popular in the 20’s, 30’s and into the 50’s.

The Soda Jerk was similar to a bartender, serving-up phosphates, rickeys, and fancy sundaes. The depression and the years that followed were hard times for Americans. Soda fountains were a place where hard working Americans could take a break and enjoy their favorite soda or ice cream. It was also a great focal point for family gatherings.

In 1937, the Hilltop Lunch Counter was born in Marion, Indiana and so was the first McCafferty family’s Soda Jerk. Don McCafferty paid off a delinquent milk bill for $250 and inherited a troubling ice cream store in return. He worked very hard with little success, spending so much time in the store that a cot had to be brought into the restaurant. After a year of hard work, Don decided to sell the Hilltop. However, with the economy still in recession from the depression, no buyers could be found.

Even the local grocery store next to the Hilltop had to close its doors, leaving Don McCafferty and his dream about to come to an end. An owner of a local restaurant supply company convinced Don to take over the grocery store, remodel and enlarge the Hilltop with modern state of the art equipment. This was a huge risk that Don decided to take. Don gave the man one year on the loan and told him that if it didn’t work out, then he would sell. In the summer of 1938, with a new menu featuring the burger-in-a-basket, a hamburger, french fries and a coke for 25¢, Don McCafferty’s dream came true and the restaurant took off, becoming a huge success.

Over the years the menu expanded and so did the staff, from one waiter to 28 employees. In 1950, the Hilltop closed with much regret when Don McCafferty’s poor arthritis condition would not permit him to run the business.

Now, some 50 years later, his grandson Kevin has recreated what his grandfather did so many years ago. With stories from his father of how his granddad cooked, and what it was like to eat at the Hilltop, Soda Jerks set out to keep the spirit of the Hilltop alive. With the help of many that would take several pages to name, Kevin’s dream, like his grandfather’s, has come true. Soda Jerks goal is to assure you of the highest quality at the lowest prices possible.

Along with a strong family tradition of soda jerking, Kevin has had a great amount of training in ice cream related fields. At the age of 16, Kevin’s first fountain job was with the Fosselman Ice Cream Company where he learned how to serve up ice cream sodas, shakes and malts from the best in the business. The Fosselman family began making ice cream around the same time the Carousel building was originally built (established in 1919) and has stayed true to the early 1900’s era.  Kevin credits most of his knowledge and appreciation of ice cream to the Fosselman’s. Soda Jerks proudly serve Fosselman’s ice creams, sorbets, and hot fudge.   

Read more:

 “Rock Hudson on How to be a Soda Jerk” 

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Posted by on June 12, 2017 in nostalgic



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