Many years ago I worked at a Coca Cola museum on the Las Vegas Strip where my job was to dress up as various characters and interact with tourists. While being the polar bear was by far the most fun, I also enjoyed my shifts as the “soda jerk” in the soda fountain portion of the museum. People listened to me talk about how soda fountains were once commonplace, and once in a while someone would show up who actually remembered visiting a soda fountain back in the 40s or 50s and they’d get so excited about standing in a recreated version of their memory.
Imagine my surprise years later when I moved to Nebraska and found out that there is a fully functioning soda fountain just a short drive away from Omaha in Springfield. I thought these places simply didn’t exist anymore.
Walk into Springfield Drug & Soda Fountain and it’s a little like stepping back in time, and I don’t mean in that, “Eeew, they really need to update this place” kind of way. What I mean is that the soda fountain looks just like the photos we’ve all seen from the past. The actual soda fountain itself is a still-functioning piece from the 1930s. It’s surrounded by memorabilia that all comes together to really make me feel as though I’m stepping into my grandparents’ world, if only for a moment.
Keith the Renaissance Man
Keith Hentzen has been the pharmacist at Springfield Drug for thirty-seven years, and it’s been for the past thirty-five years that he’s run the soda fountain. Ask him why he started the soda fountain and he gives a reason that psychoanalysts would likely refer to as a breakthrough. “Where I grew up in Seward there were two drug stores. One had a soda fountain, and the other one didn’t. My mom always went to the one without a soda fountain. They say you search for the things you’re deprived of as a child,” he says, gesturing at the soda fountain.
Keith is easy to talk to and has some great stories. You can tell that he’s well-versed in the art of conversation, which I suppose you have to be if you run a soda fountain and everyone wants to come in and either ask about the soda fountain or tell their own stories about visiting soda fountains long ago. “What helps is I like people,” he says. “As a pharmacist, I deal with people who are sick. And you know, sick people are crabby. When they’re eating ice cream, they’re happy.”
The Goodness of Simplicity
Getting the menu just right has taken a lot of trial and error. Remember – he started the soda fountain back before Google was around to tell you how to do everything. It helps that Keith actually has some pretty impressive schooling in the culinary arts and understands how to make things that taste good. “If
it looks good and tastes good, you’ve made it right.” He pauses to hand a spectacular banana split to my husband. “It’s about appearance and presentation.”
“The best food is the most simple food. I don’t have fifty flavors. I keep it simple and old-fashioned, and people are happy.”
I asked for a milkshake and watched as Keith expertly crafted my selection, topping it off with whipped cream and a cherry. He then slid the big metal cup with the leftover shake toward me and I think I probably giggled like a child. There’s just something about a well-made shake that turns people into kids again, and this was a good shake. Made from hard-packed Hiland ice cream, this was a shake that was perfect for sipping leisurely while sitting at a soda fountain and chatting with Keith about phosphates, malts and root beer floats.
Whether you’re old enough to remember soda fountains, or if you’d never heard of soda fountains until now, the soda fountain at Springfield Drug is absolutely worth a visit. Dig, daddy-o?
Springfield Drug & Soda Fountain
205 Main Street, Springfield
Monday – Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.