Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 61

F L AV O R S

Story and photos by FRED & JILL SAUCEMAN

90

A Glorified Lemonade Stand Turns
As Johnson City, Tennessee, looks back on its 150-year history, a storied
business reaches a landmark anniversary of its own.

T

he Shamrock Beverage and Tobacco Shop is one
of Northeast Tennessee's oldest food and beverage operations. It opened at a shaky time, on
St. Patrick's Day in 1929, just seven months before the stock market crash. Two years later, as
the Great Depression was gripping the country,
Lafe Cox bought the business, and it's still in
the same family today. His son Jack Cox runs it, along
with Jack's wife Sheila.
Lafe had worked for Liggett's, a drugstore on the corner of Main and Roan in Johnson City. Like a lot of businesses at that time, The Shamrock had fallen into debt.
Jack says his father talked to the creditors and assumed
the debt, which Lafe and his wife Ethelyn soon paid off.
"It was a Rexall store back then, a typical drugstore,"
Jack tells us. "I'm sure they had ice cream and sandwiches, like hot dogs and pimento cheese. They made their
own syrups for fountain drinks, and they had curb service, with curb hops."
The Shamrock survives in that very same location, at
the corner of West Walnut Street and Buffalo. Curb service is gone. Most customers walk inside to order or drive
BELOW LEFT: Lexie, Abigail, and Meredith Bristol enjoy Shamrock ice cream
and lemonade in all seasons.
BELOW RIGHT: Mahto Browder learned his lemon-squeezing technique from
Shamrock owner Jack Cox.

up to the window. New sandwiches have been added, but
the menu remains largely unchanged.
It's the only place we know where you can buy chicken
salad sandwiches and slaw dogs alongside Golden Virginia Burley pipe tobacco and Arturo Fuente cigars.
In 1971, when Jack remodeled the business, he began selling house-made lemonade. He intended it to be
a warm weather offering, but when cold weather hit,
customers still demanded the drink. Although Jack introduced lemonade some 40 years after his family acquired
the business, it turns out that he was not new to lemonade sales.
"Tom McKee (a former Johnson City mayor) and
I, when we were kids, had a lemonade stand in Gilmer
Park," Jack remembers. "And The Shamrock is nothing
but an expanded, glorified lemonade stand."
Jack can squeeze about 165 lemons in an hour. He
says it keeps his arm strong for trout fishing. Jack and his
employees make a game out of squeezing lemons, seeing
who can squeeze the most in a minute.
Over the years, Jack has become an expert on lemons.
He points out that their acidity can vary by the season.
Once he detected a latent orange flavor in some juice, and
it gave him an idea. He added some freshly squeezed orange juice to his lemonade and offered that as an option
for customers. It took off.

JACK COX TALKS SHAMROCK

V

isit The Shamrock and you'll likely hear some Jack Cox philosophy.
* Jack Cox on milkshakes: "A milkshake a week won't hurt you at all.
We use whole milk, real syrup, and real ice cream."
* Jack Cox on tobacco: "I won't sell anything I don't try, so I've chewed,
I've smoked a pipe, and it's largely cigars now. There's nothing more relaxing
than to have a quality cigar and some type of beverage, out of doors, of
course. A little puff and a little sip. Don't get in a hurry. A good cigar will take
you, if you do it the way you're supposed to, 45 minutes to an hour."
* Jack Cox on the rewards of doing business: "Hardly a week goes by
without a former employee coming by. Someone left a business card the
other day and said he used to work here, and he was so glad that we were
still here. People ask me when I'm going to retire. It's still an awful lot of fun
to come to work." -F&JS

MAY/JUNE 2019

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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019

Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - 4
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Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG1
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG2
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG3
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG4
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG5
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG6
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG7
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG8
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG9
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG10
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG11
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG12
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG13
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG14
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG15
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG16
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG17
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG18
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG19
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG20
Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2019 - BRPG21
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