POP’S Ice Cream and Soda Bar Thrives on Grandin

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POP’S Ice Cream and Soda Bar located on Grandin Road.

POP’S Ice Cream and Soda Bar located on Grandin Road.

by Mary Campagna

There are very few things in the world that a good Lime Rickey cannot fix, but what the Rickey can’t accomplish, surely Brandon Davis’ special brand of “Zen Healing Soup” can. Both cures can be found at POP’S. That’s POP’S Ice cream and Soda Bar; a place where homemade ice cream in all the flavors of the rainbow and sumptuous, homemade veggie soups are dished up with colossal sides of friendship as fast as whiskeys at other sorts of bars.

POP’S, located at 1916 Memorial Avenue, has gracefully assumed the edifice that used to be the Raleigh Court Library from 1920s to the 1970s. It has retained its white, neoclassical columns and external façade, but floors, walls, plumbing, and wiring had to be restored.

“We replaced only what had to be fixed and purchased used (circa 1950s) bar equipment from Ebay,” said owners Anna Robertson, 34, and Brandon Davis, 41. In everything they do, the couple is mindful of the Earth’s need for people to re-utilize resources and seek balance in both work and life.

The vintage soda bar equipment creates the shop’s centerpiece along with wainscoting and vintage 1930s wooden booths; art and other accoutrements that evoke the late 1920s/1930s  corner soda shops – once a predominant feature of many of America’s small towns.

“We got married in May of 2005 and opened the place in March of 2006; we’d already begun renovations,” said Robertson, who confessed that it was love at first site when she met Davis as a patron while she was working at a convenience store on Grandin Road.

Both Robertson and Davis had worked in the restaurant business before, and they shared a passion for somewhat slower paced days that were unencumbered by modern technology and the society’s ever increasing addiction to mobility. They dreamed of a soda shop, but the soda/ice cream shop that they envisioned has bloomed into much more.

“Almost every afternoon we have a few kids who drop by,” said Davis. “They seem to need someone to talk to, so I’m here for them.”

Davis and Robertson celebrate the fact that the family atmosphere at POP’S extends an open invitation to a wonderful, diverse group of people; some of whom – have special needs. Maybe that’s why customers come in throngs to the welcoming little shop that has been written about in numerous publications, including The Roanoker Magazine, The Oxford American Journal and The Garden London Magazine.

“There may be a longing for nostalgia, but it could also be the fact that with fast food, everything looks the same and the larger chains have become so impersonal,” said Davis.

“It may be important to note that we’re not going anywhere,” added Robertson, “in an era when many entrepreneurs are looking for something bigger and better, we’re here to stay.”

The community understands the couple’s intentions and some folks are amused that devotees from around the globe blog about the restaurant when they can’t visit in person.  Davis says that one group of major POP’S Facebook fans are Indonesians from Jakarta. “They like us even more than Salemites,” he laughs, preparing to stir his famous African-peanut soup.

Robertson has  stepped up as a role model, representing hope, light and an empathetic attitude toward all the strangers she seats at POP’S, who soon become fast-friends.  She was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma nearly a decade ago. This trauma came upon her just as her life was changing dramatically to include a divorce, the rearing of two teenagers and a new marriage to Brandon Davis, as well as a brand new career as part owner and operator of POP’S.

“I believe in miracles and the value of naivety,” said Robertson. “I mean, I didn’t know how hard it was all going to be, but I made it through partly because I didn’t have a clue. Brandon and I just took it one step at a time, and somehow everything fell into place.”