Some days Dan Kaercher just longs for an old-fashioned treat from an old-fashioned soda fountain. And he knew right where to go --to Wilton, in eastern Iowa.
I don't know about you but some days I long for an old fashioned treat from an old fashioned soda fountain. And I know right where to go, to Wilton in East Central Iowa. Can you imagine walking into this very building to order homemade confections just before the Civil War? That is more than 150 years ago. Which is way before my time by the way.
Customer: Do not get between me and my vanilla --. That's all.
Thelma Nopoulos: Green River coming up.
Dan Kaercher: The Wilton Candy Kitchen has been serving up sweet treats since it opened in 1860. Today you can get confections, ice cream -.
Thelma Nopoulos: Green River is lemon-lime and Red River is strawberry and cherry --.
Dan Kaercher: A variety of fountain drinks and a sandwich all in a setting that hasn't really changed much over the last century.
Thelma Nopoulos: The back bar, the big ice and the big mirror and the marble, that Italian marble, they said they brought it over on the covered wagons. It is very, very old.
Dan Kaercher: Thelma and her husband George Nopoulos are part of the family that has owned the Wilton Candy Kitchen since 1910. Four generations of the family have worked here. Now I understand you started here when you six years old.
George Nopoulos: That was a few days ago.
Dan Kaercher: A few days ago. Yeah. And what was your job when you were six years old?
George Nopoulos: Something very simple. Just crank a victrola machine.
Dan Kaercher: Crank a victrola. So, that was the music of the day.
George Nopoulos: That's right.
Dan Kaercher: George's duties have expanded a bit since age six. Among his jobs is to make eight flavors of ice cream. He does this at the front window of the shop so he can talk to customers and watch the action on Main Street. Now tell me about your ice cream making machine.
George Nopoulos: Well, this is a Taylor machine and we started using this about 55 years ago. That's when we bought the fountain at the same time was 1955 and it has been running ever since and makes a batch every 15 minutes.
Dan Kaercher: Now it is the real deal? You don't make any light ice cream or diet ice cream.
George Nopoulos: No, none of that. We have - butter fat.
Dan Kaercher: Plenty of butter fat.
George Nopoulos: Well, it is good for you. Heck it hasn't killed me yet.
Dan Kaercher: Obviously and how old are you?
George Nopoulos: 91, I guess.
Thelma Nopoulos: I started washing dishes here when I was ten years old and I am 80. So, I guess it is 70 years.
Dan Kaercher: You must like being together 24 hours/7 days a week.
Thelma Nopoulos: Yes, we have never thought anything differently. We love each other and we work together and share the load.
Dan Kaercher: Thelma and George's romance blossomed here at the candy kitchen. But theirs wasn't the only courtship in this iconic local setting.
Carla Thurston: We came in here almost every day when we were teenagers and we carved these in here in about 1957 and we have been married 53 years. That's the only place we sit.
Lisa Werner: I can remember coming here for ice cream when I was their age.
Dollie Ayres: I first cam in here in 1938.
Ed Williams: Can't say enough of what he and his wife have done for the town Wilton. Just phenomenal what all they have helped. So many different - well the churches and the Boy Scouts and everybody.
Ted Marolf: I was born here. So, there has never not been a candy kitchen as far as I know. It is an institution.
Dan Kaercher: There is a lot of local loyalty to the Wilton Candy Kitchen but many tourists stop by too. Including some of the thousands of bicyclists on the 2011 Ragbrai ride across Iowa. A couple nationally known actors have dropped in including Brooke Shields who was filming a movie nearby in 1991. In 1995, actor Gregory Peck was in the area and stopped by.
Thelma Nopoulos: They came down here. Then they set at table three, we have it marked, and Gregory Peck, his wife, and producer. And the seat is still warm. Everybody likes to sit in that seat where Gregory Peck sat. And then he came behind the soda fountain when I found out that his father Peck's Drug Store in La Jolla, California and that is why he came here to renew his roots with a soda fountain.
Dan Kaercher: Well, I am no Gregory Peck but I wanted to help out behind the counter too. Do you mind if I try to scoop some up sometime? How does that look?
Thelma Nopoulos: Well, that is pretty good. Can I help you just a little bit?
Dan Kaercher: Yes. I bowed out after scooping up one cone so I could let the professional show me how to make a banana split. Which by the way is said to have been created by George's father, Gus, after he obtained access to an oversupply of ripe bananas. Oh, look at that. George and Thelma say they have no plans to retire any time soon. Both being children of Greek Immigrants, Thelma says, makes them hard working and besides running the Wilton Candy Kitchen is just plain fun.
Thelma Nopoulos: We enjoy the people. We enjoy the work we do. We serve happiness to the customers.