The building housing one of the South’s oldest soda fountain drug stores was in danger of becoming vacant when the pharmacist owner sold Brent’s Drug Store to a chain in 2009, and the pharmacy part of the business was relocated. A local attorney and Fondren resident, Brad Reeves, who as a kid was taken by his parents to the soda fountain at Brent’s Drug Store, decided to be a part of the revitalization of Fondren by purchasing the store and repurposing it into a restaurant.
“If Fondren weren’t looking up, I don’t know if anyone would have bought it, and it would have closed,” Reeves said. “Part of the reason for my interest was seeing the revitalization and resurgence of Fondren. There is a synergy about a clustering effect. I felt confident that people would respond well to having another choice of a place to eat in Fondren. People love the fine dining restaurants in Fondren, but maybe they can’t always afford to eat there. We provide a different price point for people who are looking for a burger and a shake – Southern comfort food.”
The non-pharmacy staff of the store was willing to stay on, and the pharmacy part of the building was cleared out to make more room for booths that matched those already in place. They also kept the gift portion of the store.
Brent’s serves classic diner food including burgers, grilled cheese, pimento cheese, egg and olive salad, chicken salad and tuna salad sandwiches. It is also known for its hand-squeezed lemonade and limeade and for great milk shakes.
In addition to being open weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Brent’s Drug Store also hosts a lot of after-hours events such as birthday parties, wedding rehearsals and class reunions. It also does catering, and on Thursdays in June it stayed open from 5 to 9 p.m. for “breakfast for dinner.”
Reeves is appreciative of the customer support that has made Brent’s a success.
“The community that we are in is what makes us what we are,” he said. “This community has really supported us and kept us around. The feedback has obviously been very positive. People respect us trying to keep a landmark from closing. A lot of people told me they would do what was needed to keep it open, including things like bringing in a group of ten people.”
Turning the store into a restaurant was a natural considering its history. From the first days, Brent’s has been a local gathering place for friends and neighbors, in addition to being a successful pharmacy.
The business has changed as it has grown.
“We have been trying to learn as we go,” Reeves said. “We are learning each day, changing up the menu and tweaking it as we go. We added breakfast beginning in 2011. It has certainly been a good learning experience and challenge, but it has been fun. The customer response has been great.”
It didn’t hurt that Brent’s got national and international exposure from being used for part of the filming of the movie “The Help.” And another plus is that Brent’s is involved in the neighborhood, including sponsoring and participating in special events.
General manager Leslee Foukal said part of the fun of Brent’s is a family-friendly environment that preserves that feel of a 1940s-era diner.
“People want to be set back in time,” Foukal said. “Our main group of customers is people who have been connected here for the past 66 years. This is a place where your grandparents and parents went, and now your kids are going. There is a great feeling of community attachment.”
Foukal said Brent’s is working in strategic partnerships with other Fondren businesses to attract more of the mid-20s and -30s crowd. They are catering more to young families and young professionals to pull together events that attract that age group.