Still a favorite hangout for ice cream, good food
By Aaron Tanner
Payne’s Soda Fountain and Sandwich Shop celebrates 150 years in Scottsboro this year. Founded originally as Payne’s Drug Store in 1869 by Civil-War veteran William Henry Payne, it is the oldest continuously operated business in Scottsboro and Jackson County and is also believed to be the oldest continuously operated business in the state of Alabama.
The pharmacy was located in different parts of downtown Scottsboro before moving to the northwest side of the courthouse square in 1891 where it sits today. Although the Payne family still owns the building, the soda fountain is now run by run by Lisa Garrett and her daughter, Jessica Walton.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many drugstores across the U.S. added soda fountains to their business to attract customers. Mr. Payne, a visionary businessman, added a soda fountain when he moved his pharmacy to its current location on Laurel Street. As the first place in Scottsboro to sell Coca-Cola, customers would come in and enjoy a beverage or ice cream while having their prescriptions filled. “Pharmacies were more like convenience stores back then,” Walton says.
Even though the drugstore closed in 1991, Payne’s continues to offer customers the opportunity to experience an era when soda fountains were the favorite hangout spot in town. Today, it’s still a hangout, and one that serves good food in addition to tasty treats.
While there are different types of sandwiches and salads on the menu, such as a Dagwood and a Cobb salad, Payne’s is best known for its red slaw dog, which is a hot dog topped with ketchup-based slaw. “People come here when they haven’t had them in years because they can’t get red slaw dogs anywhere else,” Walton says. For many, it is a trip back to their childhood – eating a red slaw dog and waiting with their parents for a medical prescription.
Walton’s goal with her entrees is to offer customers a healthier alternative to other restaurants in Scottsboro. For example, there are no fried items offered except for chips. Not only does Walton use whole-grain bread for the sandwiches, but the meats are not processed and vegetables are fresh cut daily. “We try to steer towards something you can’t get anywhere else,” Walton says.
No trip to the soda shop, however, is complete without enjoying hand-dipped ice cream and served in a cone or an old-fashioned glass or glass bowl. Patrons regularly come to Payne’s for sundaes, banana splits, and coke or root beer floats.
Those who are feeling adventurous can order the Banana Rama – twelve scoops of ice cream, five different types of toppings and four bananas. And orders can be custom built to the customer’s preference. “You tell us what you want, we build your order up and make it look beautiful,” Walton says.
Because of its long history and location, customers of all ages and walks of life love Payne’s. “I don’t think that there’s a demographic that hasn’t been or isn’t frequently in here,” Walton says.
Payne’s also draws tourists. Walton says she has received visitors from such countries as China, Mexico, France, Ireland, and Guatemala, as well as domestic travelers. “We are number one on TripAdvisor.”
Many Scottsboro residents both young and old have fond memories of Payne’s. Regulars will tell Walton stories of working in the kitchen in high school or attending a birthday party as a kid, or in the case of one regular customer, proposing to his girlfriend at the restaurant. Some who came to Payne’s as a child with their parents are now bringing their grandchildren for a bonding experience. “Older customers remember coming to Payne’s with their family” Walton says.
Walton receives great satisfaction in running a restaurant with a long history as well as interacting with customers. “I have never worked at a place I felt so passionate about,” Walton says. “Making sandwiches and ice cream for customers I do not know makes me happy.”
The superior customer service and the quality of food are responsible for the repeat business, Walton says. “I am really proud of our waitresses, their attitude and their ability to make our customers feel at home and welcomed.”
Another aspect of the soda shop that keeps customers returning is Walton’s commitment to maintaining the atmosphere and layout of Payne’s the same as it was 150 years ago. “I think we would really be hurting ourselves if we tried to change,” Walton says. “Many times we thought about expanding or moving to another location, but then it would not be Payne’s.”
Plans are in the works to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Payne’s. In the meantime, Walton assures residents that Payne’s will remain a staple in the community for the foreseeable future. “Payne’s has always been here, and hopefully it will always be here,” Walton says. “It will always be a cherished Scottsboro memory.”
Payne’s Soda Fountain and Sandwich Shop
101 E. Laurel St., Scottsboro, AL 35768
Hours: Winter, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Wednesday;
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Summer, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday