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Soda fountain was a popular spot at pharmacies

POSTED: February 21, 2010 1:00 a.m.

There weren't nearly as many eating places around Gainesville's downtown half a century ago as there are today, but there were enough with certain menu items that stick in your memory like cheese on a burger.

Listing a few back in the day would include the Princeton Coffee Shop, the Collegiate, which still operates today, the Mayflower Café, Dill's Grill, Dixie Hunt, Pete Tankersley's and Lee Crowe's pool rooms. But there were others around where you could take a coffee break, get a snack or do lunch, and others that would come and go, much as they do today.

Drug stores back then, and a few today, did more than fill prescriptions or sell cosmetics or boxes of candy at Valentine's. A good part of their business was at the soda fountain, where they not only served up sundaes and fountain drinks but a hefty menu that might range from club sandwiches to country-fried steaks.

Among them were Dixie Drug, Piedmont Drug, Imperial Pharmacy and Whatley's around the square.

Whatley's was a mainstay on the square six decades from 1931 to 1991. Dr. Perry "Doc" Whatley opened his pharmacy at 111 W. Spring St. in 1931. He had come to Gainesville from Atlanta, where he had worked since his graduation from pharmacy school there.

Five years later, a tornado destroyed most of downtown Gainesville. Whatley's survived, though it was damaged considerably. It became a Walgreen's store in 1946, but it maintained the family name. At one time, the pharmacy employed 22 people, including part-time schoolboys who delivered prescriptions all over town via bicycle or motor scooter.

But what Carolyn Gilreath Burrier cherishes most about Whatley's were those times in the 1960s when her mother Catherine had a standing appointment Thursdays to get her hair fixed at Gallant-Belk's beauty shop.

Carolyn and her sister, Sandra, would while the time away exploring around the square, but the first stop likely would be Whatley's, where they'd find a booth in the back to order food.

The usual order was for a spoonburger and a Coke, which came with chips on a white paper plate and three pickle slices atop the bun. Carole can still picture Whatley's with its black-and-white checkered floor, green booths and black tables, a large mirror behind the counter of the soda fountain.


Her first toasted cheese sandwich came at Whatley's at the expense of a chocolate nut sundae, which she had ordered. The server brought her and her sister the sandwich instead, saying it was better for them. She ate the toast and her sister the cheese.

Doc Whatley would prescribe a "cherry smash" for the Gilreath sisters if ever they were sick. Doesn't sound too bad except it was spiked with castor oil. Daddy Ray "Grub" Gilreath always insisted they finish the drink all the way to the bottom where the castor oil lurked. To this day, Carole avoids drinks with cherry in them.

Sometimes the Gilreath sisters were treated to lunch at Whatley's before Saturday movie matinees at the Royal Theater on Main Street. Carole particularly remembers eating there before going to see the epic "Gone with the Wind."

Trying to relive her memories, she had been searching for the spoonburgers recipe at Whatley's. Linda Carter and Lavinia Head, the Whatleys' daughters, came up with the recipe used for years at Whatley's soda fountain:

  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 pounds lean ground chuck
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1½ cups chili sauce
  • chopped green bell pepper (optional)
  • 1½ cups ketchup
  •  ½ cup A-1 sauce.

Brown onions and meat in a Dutch oven sprayed lightly with non-stick spray. Drain well. Return to pot and add remaining ingredients. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

Then, of course, you'd slap the mixture between two slices of bun or bread.

Actually, it's the same recipe readily available in the Brenau Windows cookbook and often was used by Lessie Smithgall when she entertained college students in her home.

Whatley's downsized its food component when it moved to the corner of Spring and Bradford, but still on the square. Doc Whatley's son Perry continued to operate the pharmacy after his father's death until it closed in 1991.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com



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