If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a week or two, you know that we love finding interesting places to eat as we explore America’s highways and back roads. Yesterday, my cousin Berni took us to what is considered the oldest continually operated soda fountain in the state of Michigan. What a treat!
Located in the small resort town of Montague, a few miles north of Muskegon, Lipka’s Soda Fountain is housed in a handsome brick building dating back to 1878, and has maintained a soda fountain ever since then. That was eight years before Coca Cola was even invented!
Patti Ream, who owns the business, said her father, Glen Lipka bought the building and the pharmacy in it in 1952, when he was just 23 years old and a recent graduate of the Pharmacy program at Ferris State University. The soda fountain was in operation and remained so, along with the pharmacy, which he ran until he retired in 2003. The pharmacy closed then, but Patti, who grew up working behind the counter, still keeps the soda fountain open.
Patti is of the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” school of management, and still does business the old fashioned way. She buys enough of the freshest, top quality ingredients to operate a week at a time, and pays her bills the day they come in. “I can’t ever imagine not running this place,” she said, looking around at the handsome old building with its hardwood floor and hammered tin ceiling. “But if I ever decide to close the door, that’s all I have to do, lock the door and walk away, with no bills to pay and nothing hanging over my head.”
I don’t imagine that will happen anytime soon, since Lipka’s is a Michigan institution and people come from far and wide to enjoy one of Patti’s milkshakes that you can sip through a straw, her ice cream sundaes, and cones. A small café in the back of the store serves delicious sandwiches and other goodies.
The soda fountain itself is almost all original, as are the milkshake machines, hot fudge dispenser, and other tools of the trade.
You can sit on a stool at the soda fountain, or relax at one of the tables in the room, which is decorated with a nice collection of old Coca Cola memorabilia, and other relics from the days when Patti’s father operated the pharmacy.
You never know who may come though the door next at Lipka’s; distinguished guests have included politicians, authors, and George Wendt, who played Norm on the old television series Cheers.
The next time you’re in west central Michigan, make it a point to visit the charming little town of Montague, and pay a visit to Lipka’s. Patti has never met a stranger, and I guarantee that she will make you feel welcome. And you’ll thank me after you get your first taste of the sweet treats she serves.
Lipka’s is located at 8718 Ferry Street in Montague, and is open daily except Sundays. If you stop in, tell Patti we said hello.
Thought For The Day – If an escalator breaks down, does it become stairs?