As a teenager, Amanda Glenn worked for Jimmy Roupas at Charlotte Cafe, the Southern-style restaurant he owns in the Park Road Shopping Center. Now, the 39-year-old mother owns Carolina Soda Shoppe next door, after buying the old-school hamburger and milkshake joint from Roupas in February.
Glenn was just 19 years old when she started working for Roupas as a waitress at Charlotte Cafe. When he opened Carolina Soda Shoppe next door, Glenn went to work there, quickly moving her way up to manager.
“Jimmy has been like a father to me since I was a teenager,” she said.
Except for a six-month gap when Glenn dabbled in accounting, the Kannapolis native worked her way through school and beyond waiting tables at the cafe and then the soda shop when it opened 17 years ago.
“(Jimmy) was like, ‘One day, I’ll sell it to you,’” Glenn said. On Feb. 10, that became a reality when Roupas handed the soda shop off to Glenn for what she said was a “very generous” price.
“I could have sold it easily,” Roupas said. “But I tried to work it out with her.”
In July, Charlotte Cafe on Park Road filed for bankruptcy protection. Roupas said that rising food prices and debts incurred during the recession hurt the family-owned cafe but that he will stay open through the reorganization.
Glenn said the recession hit the soda shop, as well, where she said business “dropped by half.” To help her make a few extra bucks, Glenn said Roupas allowed her to go back and forth between the cafe and the soda shop in 2011.
“Amanda has been like one of my own,” Roupas said. “It’s just been a very, very special relationship between her and us.”
Since acquiring Carolina Soda Shoppe, Glenn said she has made very few changes. She said she’s uncomfortable with change and adds that it’s a common sentiment among employees and customers.
“Everyone who works here has worked here for years,” said Glenn, whose sister, Sarah Harwood, has worked on and off at the soda shop for 10 years. Glenn met her husband, John, while the two waited tables at the restaurant 15 years ago. Cook Rosalyn “Roz” McFadden has been serving up burgers and dogs under Roupas for nearly 30 years.
In the coming week, the soda shop will see one change: a sign in the shape of a bottle cap that reads Park Road Soda Shoppe – a name Glenn said reflects the shop’s roots in the 58-year-old shopping center.
“This neighborhood is what sold me,” Glenn said. “All the customers I wait on I’ve waited on since I was a child.”
“I always run into people I know here,” said Rush Coe, a regular customer who said the shop’s orangeade is the best around town. “I’m comfortable eating here by myself or with friends.”
Shawkita Livingston is a massage therapist at Massage Envy on Park Road. She said she gets lunch at the soda shop at least once a week.
“They’re friendly and fast,” said Livingston, who gets the same thing every time: a burger, fries and a cherry Fanta.
Glenn’s favorite? The bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich. “It is the best BLT in Charlotte,” she said.
It’s just like on TV, Glenn said. People sit at red barstools at the counter so they can talk to one another, employees know customers by name, and Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin come over the speakers as diners slurp milkshakes and chow down on hot dogs.
“We really are like a family here,” Glenn said.
She said the soda shop donates 13 percent of its profit to charities like the Buddy Backpack program and Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.
And customers are also generous, Glenn said. “They give us Christmas presents.”
Glenn said the soda shop saw record sales in June, up 16 percent from the year before.
But Carolina Soda Shoppe’s success comes as some businesses in the Park Road Shopping Center complain of rising rents ever since Columbia-based developer EDENS bought the property three years ago.
Last September, Roland’s Salon shut down after 58 years. Other stores, such as Rack Room Shoes and Piedmont Music Center, have also left Park Road.
In 2011, longtime owner Porter Byrum donated the shopping center to Wake Forest University, Queens University of Charlotte and Wingate University. Not long after, the universities sold the property for $82 million to EDENS, which also owns the Kenilworth Commons and Atherton Mill shopping centers in Charlotte.
EDENS has said it is trying to encourage customers to visit multiple stores and stay longer with added outdoor seating and a more pedestrian-friendly design.
Glenn said she welcomes the changes EDENS is bringing to the shopping center. “Whatever they’re doing, they’re bringing in new people, and that’s what we need.”
Although her rent has gone up, Glenn said the additional customers the soda shop sees has offset any negative financial impact.
The biggest difference, she said, has been in night customers, so much so that she said she is now considering extending the shop’s hours to stay open later.
But even as the soda shop sees some change, Glenn said one thing will always be the same.
“It is for Park Road Shopping Center,” she said. “I don’t think it could be mimicked.”