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Soda Pop Junction

Step back in time with a visit to historic Lynnville
Story and photos by: Morgan Graham 6/26/2020

With its 19th century buildings, railroad museum, and small-town atmosphere, it’s no wonder downtown Lynnville has been described as something “straight out of a John Wayne Western.” Soda Pop Junction, an old-fashioned soda shop with nostalgic décor and a reputation for providing one of the best burgers in Tennessee, is a key attraction of the quaint location. 

Located in the historic pharmacy building, the Giles County restaurant began serving customers in 1998 when owner Johnny Phelps decided he wanted a new vitality back to the small town. At that time, there were only two stores located on the downtown strip — Grandma’s Market and Mr. Hickman’s Variety Store. 

“City Hall, like most of the buildings downtown had deteriorated,” says Johnny. “I remember the day I bought this building. It was raining, and the roof was leaking so bad I had to use an umbrella inside.” 

Johnny spent a year and a half repairing the building while maintaining its heritage and value. He first opened Soda Pop Junction as a simple, small sandwich and ice cream shop, and he is quick to acknowledge it was a rough start for the new business. 

“I’ll be honest, for the first five to six years, I had to put money into it to keep it going,” says Johnny. “But I wanted to see the town flourish again, so I stuck with it.”

Johnny credits one of his original employees, John “Big Johnny” Hewitt, for successfully transforming Soda Pop into the restaurant it is today. “Big Johnny,” says the restaurant owner, created a secret recipe for their hamburger that has continued to earn rave reviews. Nashville’s Channel 2 News and Tennessee Magazine have both recognized Soda Pop Junction as one of the “Best Burgers in Tennessee.” 

Jason Counts, a cook at Soda Pop, can attest to the burger’s popularity, noting he prepares more than 1,000 each week.  The most requested versions, he says, are the one-third and half-pound burgers with cheese and double bacon.

While Soda Pop Junction is regionally renowned for its burgers, the restaurant’s milkshakes are also award winning and were voted second best in the state by Channel 2 News. Other menu items, such as chicken salad, steaks, salads, and onion rings are customer favorites, too. 

“Just about everything we serve is somebody’s favorite,” says Soda Pop Manager Alvie Spencer. “We have almost anything you can want.”

While the fabulous food is what brings most customers through the door, the authentic décor leaves them feeling like they have traveled back in time. Each piece tells the rich history of Lynnville, Giles County, and Tennessee. While some of the displays are personal items handed down to Johnny from family, many are heirlooms donated by customers and community members.

“Unlike other restaurants that have new decorations that look like antiques, ours are truly old and the real thing,” he says. “Each piece in here is part of the history of Lynnville and Giles County.” 

As if the antiques inside the restaurant aren’t enough to create a yesteryear ambiance, Johnny also displays his restored ’46 Dodge pickup outside the store. Once a year, Johnny fires up his beloved truck for the town’s Christmas parade in a quick trip around the square. 

Nearly a dozen regulars, like the town doctor, Elizabeth Louie, gather at the Junction each morning before work for breakfast and fellowship. Lunch is also a popular time for locals to meet and share a meal. 

“If it’s lunch time and I’m with a customer, you can bet we’re coming to Soda Pop for lunch,” says Larry Dickey, outside salesman for Giles County Cooperative, which is located nearby. “Good food and comraderie, you just can’t beat that.” 

Most of the restaurant’s traffic is on the weekend, especially for the Sunday buffet. On any given Sunday, several hundred people will enjoy a selection of three meats, 12 sides, and a multitude of desserts. 

When asked what the biggest change for the restaurant has been over the years, Johnny quickly answered: COVID-19. While the restaurant never fully closed during the pandemic, the take-out-only restrictions slashed business by 80 percent. 

“We are thankful we could still serve our regulars because we have many who depend on us for three meals a day,” he says. “Not only are they customers, they are like family, too.” 

The dining room at Soda Pop Junction is back open for business, and the restaurant is keeping its regular summer hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Next time you’re in the mood for great food in a nostalgic atmosphere, visit Soda Pop Junction at 141 Street in Lynnville.  

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