30 N. Central Ave. St. Louis, MO 63105
Perched on bar stools, customers cheer, “Fly, monkey, fly!” as someone tosses a stuffed monkey from one end of the countertop to the other. The famous Flying Monkey milkshake can’t be served until the plush toy makes it through the hula hoop. Shenanigans like this are daily experiences for both patrons and employees at Jennifer’s Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe in Clayton, Mo.
When Jennifer’s first opened in 1991, it was a pharmacy filling general prescriptions and selling natural products like supplements, vitamins, herbs and homeopathic remedies.
“I always wanted my own store,” says Jennifer Rich, pharmacist and owner of Jennifer’s. “I didn’t want to just go work for somebody else, and so that’s when Jennifer’s Pharmacy kind of took shape and became what it was.”
Retro bar stools give Jennifer’s an “old school” atmosphere that is equally evident in the gift shop across the room. Its expansive selection includes “penny candy” and gag gifts like “wash away your sins” hand sanitizers and “understand your mother instantly” breath spray.
In 2005, Rich took her customers’ advice. After a number of people told her all she was missing was a soda shoppe, she moved Jennifer’s to a larger venue where the first step was to add a soda fountain–a mechanism from the 1920s that distributes carbonated water. Rich says she was thrilled to finally install one, beginning a new chapter at Jennifer’s. Quickly, the business morphed into the Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe that customers know and love today.
Now, after customers pick up their medicine and meander through the gift shop, they can sit down at the counter and order a freshly made sandwich. If they’re thirsty, Jennifer’s has plenty to offer, including milkshakes, spritzers and phosphates.
The Flying Monkey, for example, comes with its own miniature circus act, making it a popular choice. Originally, Rich would slingshot the toy around the store to relieve stress. She turned a personal stress relief technique into regular fun by incorporating it into the menu, making Jennifer’s the home of the literal Flying Monkey. The milkshake itself is made with vanilla ice cream, bananas and hot fudge, and it’s topped with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry.
Other popular items include the Pie Milkshake–a slice of fresh homemade pie mixed in a blender with ice cream–and Mexican Coke. This kind of Coke is different from the kind people can buy in stores because it is made with real sugar.
Thus, when it comes to satisfying that sweet tooth, Jennifer’s has plenty to offer. For many customers, however, it’s hard to top a Mary’s Famous Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookie. Mary LaBerta has been working at Jennifer’s since 1991– before the Soda Shoppe even existed–but she has been baking cookies long before she joined the team. What started as her family’s recipe has become one of Jennifer’s most popular treats.
“It’s just kind of evolved,” LaBerta says. “I never really thought anything about it until someone had a cookie and they said, ‘you should make these.’”
Cindy Davis has been working at the Soda Shoppe for four years and says she loves all the nonsense and silliness that comes with the job. All of the employees at Jennifer’s agree that the customers make the job worthwhile. Most of their patrons are regulars, and over time the employees have gotten to know them and hear their stories.
“It’s just a fun place to work,” Davis says. “Everybody should experience a fun place to work once in their life.
Rich explains it’s fun watching kids grow up and have their own children all while remaining loyal customers. Davis agrees the relationships she and other employees build with patrons make the Soda Shoppe feel homey. Yet, each day she sees a new face sitting at the counter.
College student Katie Wilhelm has eaten at Jennifer’s more than six times. She always stops to order a milkshake with her friends when she drives home from Illinois for breaks.
“If I can’t decide on anything else,” she says, “I go for the Flying Monkey.”