Dining A La King: South Side Soda Shop celebrates 30 years of business

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

Photo Supplied

Perhaps no Goshen restaurant has gotten as much national acclaim as South Side Soda Shop.

Perhaps none is more beloved. And likely none has employed more people in its 30-year history.

When owners Nick and Charity Boyd, who have been there since Dave Pottinger, Faye Petersen and Don Walters renovated it and then opened Jan. 14, 1986, did the math, the numbers for the small restaurant along South Main Street were staggering.

312,000 cheesesteaks

1,000,000 potatoes

16,000 gallons of chili

15,600 lemon meringue pies

1,500 employees

The numbers, printed on the back of t-shirts the staff and others are wearing, tell part of the story, but as it points out on the bottom of the list, there are countless memories.

The lives of the Boyds are interwoven into this small city. They are part of the fabric of Goshen.

After Nick Boyd fell off a ladder cleaning gutters in September and broke his arm in five places, he went to an orthopedic surgeon named Benjamin Smucker. Years ago, Benji, as Nick knows him, would give a note to his teacher at Parkside Elementary School across the street from the soda shop saying he could go home in the neighborhood for lunch.

Smucker would go to the soda shop and sit at the counter, where he talked with Boyd as he fed him lunch.

South Side Soda Shop will offer specials to celebrate 30 years of business this week. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday will have specials on one item and all food will be 30 percent off on Thursday.

When they opened the restaurant, Pat Gorham was the first customer. She was later the kindergarten teacher of Nicole, the Boyd’s oldest daughter who is now 30.

On Thursday afternoons, Michelle Marquis comes and gives chair massages at the restaurant to any of the employees who want them. In 1993, when the Boyds wanted to put on an addition right next to the street, Michelle’s mom Kathy was on the Goshen Board of Zoning Appeals and questioned the move. It passed with neighborhood support and the soda shop grew. When it came time to raise the walls, Charity’s father, Dave Pottinger, came into the restaurant and solicited help and soon the customers were outside lending hands.

Before Nick’s fall, which has kept him away from the grill, I had a conversation with Nick and Charity about the future. What would happen if they wanted to do something else? Who would take over?

It’s a rare thing to keep a restaurant open 30 years. It’s rare that a family works together as they do. Nicole first went to the restaurant when she was just weeks old. Now her two children and husband are often at the restaurant. Hannah, 26, left teaching and has been working 50 or 60 hours a week at the soda shop. Both girls bake the famous pies. Both are waitresses and hosts. Nick and Charity’s niece Ashley works with them.

Charity has been working at the grill since Nick’s injury, which clarified some things.

“We’re not ready to retire,” said Nick.

First, they’re working with family. They spend time together all day at work. They vacation together. “It couldn’t be better,” Nicole said.

They work hard together and Charity wonders about a few less hours, but they do love it. “It’s our life,” Nick said. “We don’t have hobbies. Our hobbies are our food. Our customers are our friends. … We still really enjoy it.”

The food is simple but good. Nick, originally from Philadelphia, loves making cheesesteaks more than burgers, and his version is the only one I’ve had west of eastern Pennsylvania that I order repeatedly.

The salads are simple. The chili was a perennial winner of the Elkhart County chili cook-off in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2003, I searched for the best pie in Elkhart County and the lemon meringue was the best you could buy. I think it still may be. Over the years, Nick has taken to cooking and serving seafood.

They have given first jobs to hundreds of teenagers, and sometimes are giving them to sons and daughters of some of those. They’ve employed Goshen College students to wait tables and work in the open kitchen. Not all of them loved the Boyds, but many of the employees came to see them as second parents and in 30 years, they say they’ve fired less than 10 employees. “We’ve raised a lot of children,” Charity said, pointing out that kids with issues needed them and the job, not to be shown the door. “That was the joke around here: We never fire people,” she said.

In 2007, Guy Fieri came to visit the restaurant. In the basement and behind the counter, he oohed and ahhed at the food. Business doubled after the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” episode aired and visitors still come because of that show.

The building was constructed in 1910. It has a deep history and became the South Side Soda Shop. The Boyd family has given it a life and one that’s part of Goshen and its history. People don’t just come because of the old jukebox or historic school pennants on the walls. They come because the food and hospitality are great.

South Side is a quintessential Goshen restaurant. It’s a family restaurant. It’s one of those places that helps make our community what it is.

The diner is at 1122 S. Main St., Goshen, and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

 

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@flavor574.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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