Among the pristine aisles of drugs, bandages, supplements and greeting cards at De Soto Pharmacy in Canoga Park, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, an unexpected but delicious treat beckons customers.
At the 1950s-style counter of Jerry's Soda Shoppe, a glass mug is covered with a layer of melted chocolate that spills over the rim and handle. After it hardens, the vessel is filled with ice cream, seltzer, whipped cream, sprinkles and the requisite cherry.
As simple as it sounds, the shop's ice cream soda, with its unique, chocolate-covered mug, has been winning fans in the San Fernando Valley and beyond.
De Soto, which opened in the late 1950s, has been owned and managed by the Meyers family since 1985. But its recent popularity has been very much an outgrowth of social media. In the mid-2000s, a customer took a picture of his ice cream soda and uploaded it to a new, trendy website: Facebook. Within two days, it became the most popular item on the menu. Since then, the counter has seen its lunch and dinner space shared by Baby Boomers and twentysomethings alike, all attracted by the kitschy atmosphere and creamy confections.
This month, Food Network magazine is displaying the venerable ice cream soda on its cover, with the small shop representing California in a ranking of the best frozen desserts in the United States. And the television network is set to include the shop in an episode on Sunday that looks at the best eats throughout the 50 states. L.A. Weekly has called Jerry's trademark soda tops in the city, if not the world.
"The measurement of success is not necessarily a number figure -- it's an overall satisfaction, and right now it's very satisfying," said owner David Meyers, who believed the soda shop's recent success is due to hard work by the people behind the counter, in addition to the advances of the digital age. "When the staff puts their heart and soul into it, it's contagious, and people pick up on that. It's a throwback, but everybody here prides themselves on being independent."
The shop's eponymous Jerry is David Meyers' father. They opened the counter in 1996, two years after the Northridge earthquake significantly damaged one side of the pharmacy.
During the lunch rush on a weekday, Steve Scott and two of his co-workers from uSamp, an online market-research company, ate sandwiches and desserts at a small table near the counter. They heard about the store through Yelp, so naturally, Scott took a picture of his banana split with his smart phone before eating.
"It's got that nostalgia, Americana feel to it," Scott said.
His co-worker, Devender Gollapally, who moved from India 15 years ago to the U.S., sat beside him enjoying his first root-beer float in the country.
Early afternoon is the busiest time for the eatery. Yalila Martinez, who has worked for more than 20 years at the eatery, sighed after one lunch rush. "That's how it is now," she said of the store's seeming resurgence.
While the 1950s look draws in new customers, regulars said the service and local environment keep them coming back.
Martinez and eatery manager Edith Morales came to feel a connection to their regulars. Janet Pedersen grew up in England and completed her medical education before moving to the Los Angeles area in the 1960s. She has been coming in about once a month for 20 years, always ordering a chocolate milkshake.
"I'm not awfully keen on the larger chains," Pedersen said. "The people who work here make the (atmosphere) a good one."
"We want to make the food so that when we send it to the customers, they're happy," Morales said. "We have an open relationship with the customers -- we get to know them, and they get to know us."
Not many independent, large pharmacies continue to operate in the Valley. But, according to Meyers, the business plans is to maintain its local, independent atmosphere, even as its popularity increases. The pharmacy is still the flagship of the business, and the soda shop maintains its philosophy of having a simple menu with good ingredients.
"The industry of pharmacy has changed dramatically in the last 15 years," he said. "But we're all one happy family here, and it shows that when people care about what they do, they get recognition."
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