Road trip into the ’50s

The 1950’s marked an era in time when soda fountain shops were the cornerstone of every town’s main street. Often housed in the drug store, the neighbourhood soda fountain counter served as a social gathering place for people of all ages.

Wearing black trousers and bow tie with his signature handlebar moustache

Wearing black trousers and bow tie with his signature handlebar moustache

The 1950’s marked an era in time when soda fountain shops were the cornerstone of every town’s main street. Often housed in the drug store, the neighbourhood soda fountain counter served as a social gathering place for people of all ages.

Customers spun round and round on brightly coloured stools. Teenagers spent hours sipping malted milkshakes and feeding the jukebox while the older folks sipped coffee and shared stories.

On a recent Cowboy Trail foodie tour hosted by Travel Alberta, I was transported back to the 1950’s. A period in time that I only experienced while watching childhood sitcoms like Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.

Just 25 minutes southwest of Calgary, an authentic soda fountain and 50’s Diner is tucked away in the heart of Black Diamond called Marv’s Classic Soda Shop.

As you enter Marv’s soda shop, you instantly feel as if you have stepped on to a 1950’s movie set! You are greeted by doo-wop tunes playing on the jukebox, waitress in poodle skirts, and walls decorated with pictures of singers, bumper stickers and license plates. Then there are the chrome counters with swinging stools, and bubble-gum-pink vinyl booths that would make anyone ready to “twist and shout”!

Happy days were really here at Marv’s and it was hard not to become one of those starry-eyed teens looking for a place to “ hang out” to have a snack and listen to some music.

If the whole ambiance of the soda shop didn’t take you back thinking about the good old days, then the owner, Marvin Garriott, will certainly send you there. Wearing black trousers and bow tie with his signature handlebar moustache, Marv fits comfortably into his surrounding looking like a “soda jerk’ of the 50’s. For those young-uns who don’t know, the term “Soda Jerk” came from the jerking motion of the soda fountain handle.

As he scoops ice cream and pours soda from his antique fountain, Garriott reminisces how his shop came to be. It began with antiques.

“I had a house full of things and another shed full of things, “ explains Garriott, “so it seemed natural to open an antique shop”

He decided a candy store might fit in this new shop as well. He looked for old fashioned candy not readily available elsewhere. Using the internet he was able to locate items that had been off the market for 30 to 40 years, now reproduced. Smith Brothers cough drops, necco wafers, Victory V’s and jaw breakers soon began to appear on his shelves.

Garriott also thought back to a time when the candy store and the soda fountain presented the delicious treats to the world. After reminiscing about the soda fountains of his youth, he purchased vintage ice cream freezer and a soda fountain.

He began serving up delicious ice cream treats from recipes found in vintage soda books. Like the soda jerks of his time, “I only uses only vanilla ice cream, syrup and soda water to make my ice cream sodas,” explains Garriott.

Simple enough, I thought, I could easily replicate the drink of the 50’s at home.

Not so! What makes Marv’s soda so popular is the quality of his ingredients. “High quality ice cream and syrup mingled with soda water with very fine bubbles” distinguishes Marv’s drink from the others.

Besides his vintage candy and soda Marv’s has a great selection of unique burgers that echo the retro 50’s theme. Elvis burger ( beef burger with peanut butter & bananas), Fonzie (1/4 lb. cheese burger) Peggie Sue (Grilled chicken breast with lettuce, tomato & mayo), are just a few items on Marv’s lunch menu.

An even better reason to come to the shop is to hear Garriott himself, a singer and guitarist. Garriott spent 35 years in the entertainment business and The Canadian Country Music Association nominated him for Duet of the Year 1982.

If you order a “Elvis burger” Garriott will entertains you with Elvis tunes and other 1950s-era favourites while you enjoy your meal.

His burgers are not the only things that have Hollywood connection, Garriott with his classic looks, has appeared as a bank manager in the movie Unforgiven and had a part in the TV movie Black Fox starring with Christopher Reeves.

Marv’s is one of those places that make going for a drive on a nice day worthwhile. It’s unlike anything else out there. You haven’t seen the 50s until you’ve been to Marv’s Classic Soda Shop … which makes it the perfect stop on a mini road trip.

You can check out Marv’s Soda shop at

Some phrases used in the art of soda jerking from the 1950’s:

• Bucket of Hail — small glass of ice;

• Shoot one from the south — strong coke;

• Pair of drawers — two cups of coffee;

• Sinker and suds — coffee and doughnuts;

• Fizz — soda water;

• Gorge Eddy — customer leaving no tip;

• Eighty seven — attractive female

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on

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