The Sweet Shop has been a favorite meeting spot on campus for generations. Ninety years later, it is still going strong. If the walls could talk, they might tell tales of romance, struggles, friendships made, and futures forged. The Purdue Memorial Union opened in 1924. At that time, the dining facilities in the Union consisted of a cafeteria area with a soda fountain and a banquet service, all operating as one unit.
The first true Sweet Shop appeared in its own separate space in 1927, and was expanded to its present size in 1957. It has always been a special meeting spot on campus and a part of Purdue history. When it first opened, Purdue students often referred to it as the “Sweet Shop Lab.” They would schedule time in the “lab” for the social side of their education.
As students wrote in the Purdue yearbook, the 1932 Debris:
“The ‘Sweet Shop’ provides a delightful rendezvous for Purdue students. The shop is a nook where students drink a cooling ‘coke,’ meet new friends and release themselves from the usual scholastic atmosphere. This service is in constant demand, and many leisure hours are spent enjoying the companionship of the ‘Sweet Shop.'” (pg 217)
Here are some of the earliest photographs of the soda fountain (Pre-Sweet Shop days).
The soda-fountain was along one wall of the cafeteria in the early 1920s.
A full house reflects the popularity of the “lab.”
1925, Frank “Pappy” Fox starts working in the Sweet Shop.
Frank “Pappy” Fox was a beloved fixture in the Sweet Shop for over 30 years. He also managed the Barber Shop and Billiards Room from 1925-1959.
Per a Memorial Union brochure, “Frank served up sound advice and sympathy for student problems with his coffee, sandwiches and sodas. In return, the students showed great pride and respect for the Sweet Shop and quickly added a ‘Sweet Shop Lab’ to their schedules. Everyone who worked for Mr. and Mrs. Fox saw their sincere interest and devotion to the student body. Many ‘Sweet Shop Coke™ dates’ developed into romances under the happy guidance of ‘Mommy’ and ‘Pappy’ Fox.” (Sterrett, Jeff., Gick, Becky, and Mindrum, Bob).
Fox planned the original menu for the Sweet Shop, which was never changed during his management. He developed his own chocolate sauce and blend of coffee. The early Sweet Shop’s favorite and standard snack was a ham salad sandwich. “Pappy dispensed 150 gallons of coffee per day and seven 40-gallon barrels of Coke™ per week.” (Sterrett)
The Purdue community owes “Pappy” much for his dedication to the Sweet Shop and those he served over the years. After renovations, the Sweet Shop became known as Pappy’s Sweet Shop, as a way to honor Fox.
There has been some speculation from unverified sources that Pappy was a bootlegger during prohibition and used the sweet shop as a cover. When the Sweet Shop was most recently renovated, that tidbit was even used in their marketing, and this is what appears today on a door by the cash registers (click the image for the full view):
Images from the Sweet Shop through the years
Per page 83 of the 1955 Debris, “The Sweet Shop took on a more refined atmosphere as prom-goers rested their weary feet between dances.”
The Sweet Shop was expanded in 1957 and the next redecoration took place in 1967.
Attendees of the 1960 Military Ball stop in the Sweet Shop for a drink.
In order to provide efficient service to the many students who used the Sweet Shop, paper disposable-ware was introduced in the 1960s. This was a first in college union food service. (Anderson, Deborah J., Westbury, Edmond P., and Hughes, Melvin M., p. 7).
1970s and 1980s
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Sweet Shop resembled cafeteria-style food-service.
2000s – Diner-Style
Sterrett, Jeff., Gick, Becky, and Mindrum, Bob. 75th Anniversary : Purdue Memorial Union. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University, 1999.
Anderson, Deborah J., Westbury, Edmond P., and Hughes, Melvin M. “Unchanged Traditionally, Yet Traditionally Changing.” West Lafayette (IN): Purdue University, Purdue Memorial Union, 1974.
Debris Yearbook, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN. earchives.lib.purdue.edu, 9 June 2017.
Blog post by Mary A. Sego, Processing Assistant, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections. Mary would like to thank Bob Mindrum, Director of the Purdue Memorial Union (1995-2016), for his contributions of photographs, brochures, and most importantly, personal stories in the compilation of this blog post.