Corn syrup was one reason for the closing of the historic building that sits on the corner of Main Street and Utah Avenue in Payson, and a little more than 100 years later, it helped the re-opening of that same building. Eli Smith opened his vintage ice cream parlor, Eli’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Soda Shop, there on April 15.
“When we were looking around for ice cream, I tried every possible option,” Smith said. “Soft serve ice cream has no cream, milk, or sugar – it’s mostly corn syrup, emulsifiers, chemicals. It tastes okay, but we wanted high quality.”
The “old fashioned” in the business name means just that. He uses locally made hard ice cream crafted from real cream, milk and sugar. Smith’s focus is on sourcing locally, and his ice cream is supplied by Rowley’s Red Barn in Santaquin. All of his pastries and pies are from local bakers as well.
“The local bakers, wow, they make amazing stuff,” Smith said. “When I was researching the ice cream, I tried every possible option. But Red Barn is the best I tried. It’s crazy good. They use lots of cream and it’s really dense.”
Smith’s family has owned the location since the 1980s, and the family has been renovating it since Smith was a child, he said. The building, built in the late 1880s, opened in 1891 as the Payson Exchange Savings Bank, serving area farmers and merchants.
Sugar beet farmers populated the Payson area in the early 1900s, supplying local and national food and beverage companies with sugar for their products, through the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company. That company struggled in the early 1900s, and with the invention of Karo corn syrup in 1902, sugar profits declined. The bank failed in 1924 and closed.
When Smith and his family first went through the building, they found tens of thousands of original deposit slips from the bank. Those slips, original payment receipts, and bank correspondence are now on display in the original bank vault within the ice cream shop. Customers are encouraged to enter the vault and view the deposit slips filling the shelves and read the letters lining the wall. Smith had a company also make roughly $1.2 million in fake money to line the shelves as well.
Smith’s sister, Marielle McLaren, is his partner in the shop, and she was the one that convinced him to put his name on it, much to his embarrassment. But in digging through the old bank notes, they realized that the main cashier at the original bank was named Eli Good. The shop name then felt fortuitous, and they even offer an “Eli Good” drink.
In addition to ice cream, as a scoop or made into spatula scraping thick shakes, the soda shop part of the business is also important to Smith.
“We offer true old soda shop drinks -- you can get a lime phosphate, an orange cream, a brown cow and an egg cream, even fresh lemonade squeezed from a whole lemon,” Smith said. “We have sodas in some really unique flavors, but our fountain drinks are still priced the same as Sodalicious.”
Smith and McLaren’s focus is on high quality food and solid customer service, but at reasonable prices. Customers should be able to come in with $2 or $3 and be able to get a “really good old-fashioned treat,” according to Smith.
Smith loves historic old buildings, and with his family, put years of effort into renovating the shop – from updating the electrical and plumbing, to restoring the original stained glass windows, to hand painting the ornate hammered tin ceiling in the shop. They both also hope they will be an instrumental part of restoring the old downtown part of Payson, making it a place where families can come.
“This is the time. We’re trying to revitalize the downtown. We hope it is going to make a difference,” McLaren said. With the new Payson LDS Temple, and the influx of new residents projected to come to Payson, Smith and McLaren are hopeful.
“We’ve already been busy in the evenings here just in the first week, and we haven’t even advertised,” Smith said.