Kim Cook: Thanks, Paris Soda Shop, for the memories

Published 10:31 am Monday, August 17, 2009

kimcookWhen I walked into The Paris Soda Shop on Main Street in Niles, it was as though I were 12 years old again. The walls were covered with life sized cut-outs of James Dean, Dorothy and The Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, a poster of Lucy as the Vitametavegamin girl, a Betty Boop clock, and a giant board covered with pictures and stories of when life was a bit slower and a bit quieter. A bar with stools faced a huge mirrored wall with a soda fountain and hundreds of soda glasses hanging – just waiting to be filled with an ice cream sundae.  Bringing myself back to 2009, I looked up and saw a lady walking from a room in the back wearing a white apron that she was wiping her hands on. Greeting me with a big smile, she said, “I’m Elaine Tughan, owner of The Paris Soda Shop. Let’s go back to the kitchen.  We can talk while I finish up the blueberry cobblers I’m working on.”

The smell of blueberries and cinnamon baking was heavenly. The kitchen was open and bright with racks of dishes and bake ware, chest freezers, refrigerators, and ovens.  There was a station set up with a large table and shelves that were filled with every spice imaginable.  The table was covered with all the makings for fresh blueberry cobbler. “I make whatever is in season so it’s fresh; strawberry shortcake, peach cobbler, cherry pie. Tomorrow, I’m trying blueberry zucchini bread. I’ve never tried that before,” Elaine says.

After purchasing the shop in 2003, Elaine says, “It took two years to get the upstairs livable then another two years to set up shop downstairs.” Elaine’s love of baking and cooking was driving her towards opening a café. After researching the history of her purchase, Elaine discovered that it was the site of Paris Candy some 20 years ago. Paris Candy had been in business for 60 years from 1926-1986 selling mainly candy and ice cream.

Originally from Livonia, Elaine didn’t know anything about Paris Candy. While renovating, she encountered many area residents.  Listening to stories of first kisses and hand holding, Elaine did a little searching and found a 1940’s soda fountain on E-bay in Waterberry, Conn. First focusing on the fact that the ice cream offered in Niles was The Dairy Queen. “And they only had soft serve.”

She said, “Then I went to a few sandwiches to attract the downtown lunch crowd. Extending the kitchen, I also extended the menu to include fresh baked goods, I even started making the bread for the sandwiches.” Elaine says her specialties are the quiche and saffron soup. Being from the Detroit area she offers a Detroit Dog. She said, “It’s along the line of a Chicago Dog, but it’s much better. It has chili.”

“I love it! I love it because it doesn’t have any beans in it,” says Janelle, an employee of The Paris Soda Shop. You can find Janelle working most nights in the summer.  She says she loves the customers.  “The Apple Festival is an exciting time for The Paris.” Janelle says before and after the parade they’ve got people lined out the door. “It’s our busiest day.”

She says, “Customers come for the atmosphere and the lunchbox lunches. We serve sandwiches and chips in metal character lunchboxes. Adults love it as much as kids,” adds Janelle.

Twelve-year-old patron Morgan Cook of Niles, says her favorite is the chocolate shake and there’s so much to look at. Not having any children of her own, Elaine says that she loves catering to the kids when they come in hoping maybe to create another 60 years of memories. Living in Niles all of my life and remembering Paris Candy, I would like to thank Elaine Tughan for bringing back a great piece of the past for my kids and for the folks of Niles to enjoy.

You can also find Elaine and her fresh baked goods at The French Market Thursdays through Saturdays on the corner of Front Street and Main Street in Niles. She also serves some of her goods at the Free Concert held at the Amphitheatre in downtown Niles. If your sweet tooth is screaming, head down to 220 Main St., Niles. Open seven days a week in the summer and closed Sundays in the winter.  Elaine at The Paris Soda Shop will surely fix you up something to quiet it.

Kim Cook is a student at Southwestern Michigan College. She lives in Niles.