The Sundrop Shoppe and Luncheonette, one of Tullahoma’s newest eating establishments, is expanding, and owner Paige Prescott Lashlee says that it is all thanks to the community.
The luncheonette is in the same Northwest Atlantic Street building as Prescott Bottling & Distributing Company, where Lashlee, a fourth-generation part of the company, serves as Director of Marketing.
Despite only having opened in May, the shop has already seen such growth they have hired a new kitchen manager, Jason Moody.
“We were overwhelmed and excited by how well we were received by the community,” said Lashlee.
Local source, local distributor, local history
She believes part of the reason people have been so supportive is because of the strong cultural connection and love of the Sundrop brand.
“It’s almost like we’ve opened a franchise without being a franchise; because we’re affiliated with Sundrop and Prescott. People have that love of the brand.”
And that love is extended to the shop.
“On the second day we were open a man came in with a very big Sundrop tattoo” said general manager Ashley Davis.
In fact, they’ve had people come from all over. Once, a girl came in to model like the Sundrop Golden Girl in old advertisements. One man came took a day off work to come from Chattanooga.
“Part of it I think is authenticity,” said Moody. “It’s neat because it’s real,” he said, comparing the uniqueness of the Sundrop Shoppe to the ubiquity of fast food chains.
Lashlee says the look she was going for was that of Mr. Gower’s drug store in “It’s a Wonderful Life;” and she has succeeded in that goal, with the classic look of an old soda shop.
It’s such an instant classic, Lashlee said, that many people have suggested to her that the shop should be featured on the PBS television show “Tennessee Crossroads,” which she said she’d like to see happen.
Lashlee is also proud that as much of the shop’s décor and merchandise as possible comes from local businesses.
“Local artists make our art here, local merchandisers make our merchandise here, Legacy Creamery makes our gelato, we donate to Shepherd’s House, we donate to Blue Monarch, we support them by selling their products, we have employees here from Skills Development,” she said. Even the cabinetry, complete with its classic pillars and bar, was made by Belvidere-based Glen Rose Cabinetry, which built everything in the shop based on photographs Lashlee gave them.
And that Legacy Creamery gelato? That is “our exclusive flavor, this is the only place in the world where you can get a Sundrop float made with Sundrop gelato.”
A dream come true
“What most people don’t realize is that this was a seven-year journey,” said Lashlee.
Lashlee said her father had always “talked about a restaurant. Talked a sweet shop, a bakery, a coffee shop, something.” Lashlee herself had worked in restaurants all the way through school, “a period of about 10 years.”
At first the family considered opening a Sundrop store in Lynchburg, looking to the RC and Moon Pie stores in Charleston and Chattanooga, respectively, for inspiration. When that didn’t work out, they looked at having a stainless steel dining car built by a company in Atlanta, but found it was cost-prohibitive. In late spring of last year, Lashlee thought to restore a portion of the building the family already owned and which was previously used for storage.
City of Tullahoma has been a huge help, too, Lashlee said. The city’s downtown restoration was part of what inspired her to go through with her vision.
Half of the money to get the business started came from the City’s Commercial Revolving Loan Fund, which was initially funded with an Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) given to Dan and Fran Markham for Micro Craft. Instead of this money being paid back to the federal government, it was paid to Tullahoma as seed money to offer low interest loans to Tullahoma businesses, where it has continued to help businesses get started for 30 years. Lashlee said that this is a great program which a lot of people do not know about; her father told her about it as he had remembered taking advantage of the offer when Prescott had moved to Atlantic Street.
The other half of the money came from Coffee County Bank. A larger organization had refused, Lashlee said, because “they didn’t feel that we had the ability to pull it off, but I think it’s because they weren’t local. They didn’t know much Middle Tennessee loves Sundrop.” The local bank, however, came through because “they believed in us.”
‘It brings us all together’
The Sundrop Shoppe team is a family, laughing together as they prepare to open for the day, and they believe that happiness is key.
“I want people to get out of bed and be happy to come here” Lashlee said.
Ashley Davis, who was recently promoted to general manager, said that they are a team that respects each other and works well together.
“It’s like the bond you make with your friends when they come over for dinner,” she said of the shop’s relationship with its customers. “It brings us all together. That’s what we do all day here.”
“There is no limitation to what we can do,” said Moody, who has been in the restaurant business his entire life. He had gotten out of the industry, but was excited by what Lashlee is has accomplished.
The team welcomes feedback and has implemented changes based on customer recommendations. Lashlee was so impressed by one girl’s suggestion to have hooks under the bar where patrons could hang purses or hats, she added them immediately.
Many of the upcoming menu changes are in response to requests, too. In September, the shop will expand its menu to replace summer sides with autumn ones.
The new recipes, like those already on the menu, will represent the kinds of food people make at home and which bring back memories. All are family recipes from members of the team.
“They’re going to be warm and comfortable and stick to your ribs” said Davis, whose macaroni and cheese will be among the items on the fall menu.
There are also plans to add candied Dickel apples with caramel and ice cream, and seasonal soups.
Stetson Snead can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org