Carrying On Gene’s Sweet Legacy

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Gene Oldham’s dream – to recreate an early 1900s-style soda shop in downtown Pittsboro where friends and family could gather to celebrate – was a lifetime labor of love. He opened S&T’s Soda Shoppe, named after sons Steve and TJ, in 1997 and invited families to sit down and share a story, a cream soda or both. Simplicity was essential for the first-time restaurant owner. The shop was originally only going to serve french fries, chicken salad, pimento cheese sandwiches and ice cream. Today, the diner offers a whopping menu of American classics, Southern mainstays and 32-plus flavors of ice cream.

S&T’s gained local fame for its food and friendliness over the years, which is why Chathamites mourned Gene’s sudden passing in December 2020.

Vicky Oldham, Gene’s wife of 43 years, fell in love with his “kind brown eyes” on their first date (at a diner, of course). The couple raised their two sons in Vicky’s hometown of Pittsboro while Gene set his heart on opening a diner. The perfect opportunity presented itself in 1996 in the form of a vacant building on Hillsboro Street that once housed a soda shop in the early 1900s. What followed was a collaborative effort to restore the nostalgia of Gene’s fondest memories from the soda shops of his childhood through renovations and restoration.

Vicky had her doubts, but she matched Gene’s entrepreneurial spirit with her own determination and warm hospitality. And S&T’s became a success. But no one could have predicted the financial setbacks the pandemic would have on the entire service industry. The diner adapted to a takeout-only reality while loyal staff and customers kept the business afloat. It was a tearful and bittersweet day when Vicky, Steve and TJ reopened S&T’s doors on Jan. 5, 2021, to dine-in customers.

“When I first came back to work after Gene’s death, it was so sad and awful,” Vicky says. “But when people started celebrating and laughing again, I said, ‘Look, honey, they’re celebrating, and they’re happy!’ And that made me happy.”

Steve and TJ, now S&T’s managers, remain dedicated to helping their mother carry on their father’s dream. S&T’s is more than a restaurant to its longtime customers. It’s a place where families and friends have shared countless meals and priceless memories – you can find tributes to those memories in the names written in permanent marker on a bench near the front of the store. The wooden bench was a gift from a customer, and it reminds Vicky of Gene’s legacy of love every day. “Love whoever you’re with,” she says. “Love them, and don’t take anything for granted.”

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