Kast Iron Soda Works Brings Old-Time Flavor to Downtown Salem
SALEM, Ohio – Kast Iron Soda Works has the laidback vibe of a coffee shop, the look of an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and the commitment to craft of a brewpub.
But what it serves is sodas, with an old fashioned fountain or from the hundreds of bottled varieties in stock. The business at 420 E. State St., downtown, will have its grand opening this weekend.
The owners say they want it to become a place where families and friends can slow down, linger as long as they like and enjoy being together.
“What we were going for is a place for the community to use as a hang-out space,” says Leslie Kline, who owns Kast Iron with her husband, Will. “We wanted it to be a comfortable place … where people can meet up and talk for a good long while.”
The soda shop is a concept that is new to the Mahoning Valley. The Klines’ inspiration came from Antiqology, a store with a soda fountain in Huntington, Ind., where they previously lived. They built on the idea and adapted it to Salem.
The Klines gave their room – which previously housed a discount music store – a $100,000 makeover. The result is a space that is tidy and new but still transports guests back to the days of the soda jerk.
During construction, the couple had to make adjustments because of pandemic-related shortages of some construction materials, and skyrocketing prices for others. But the end result is pretty much what they had in mind.
“We wanted to use elements that have a modern look, but we also wanted it to look like you’re stepping into a different time,” Will says.
Some decorative touches – as well as the logo – reflect Salem’s history as a center for metal casting and manufacturing. The bar, for example, is wrapped in steel plate and there are faux steel support beams that are intentionally exposed.
Kast Iron is the first business venture for the Klines. Will is a native of Mount Vernon, and Leslie is from Salem. The two met while attending the University of Akron, married and have four daughters. Will was an officer in the U.S. Army. After a stint in Europe, the Klines moved to Indiana in 1999, then to Salem in 2016.
Will is a financial adviser for GYG Financial in Canfield; before that, he was a business banker. He recently wrapped up his parallel military career as an Army Reservist.
“I know about small businesses. I got them up and running as a banker, and I’m bringing that experience into this business.” Will says. “It’s exciting to be on this side of the discussion.”
Leslie says the community is ready for a place like Kast Iron.
“During COVID, social interaction has been lacking for a lot of people. But it also made people want to ‘Slow down and drink up,’ ” she says, echoing the soda shop’s slogan. “We built it as a place to do that.”
The retro-yet-modern room has the dimensions of an old-time saloon: 19 feet wide by 77 feet long. Couches and chairs surround small tables along the walls, and there are also booths of varying sizes. Shelves are stocked with board games for patrons to play. A room at the rear geared toward larger groups has couches and will soon get a 42-inch by 42-inch wall-mounted magnetic Scrabble game.
Kast Iron offers plenty of pop; there are 380 varieties in bottles, plus specialty sodas, handmade root beer and floats. But it also delivers the fizz. Nostalgic soda handles – the kind the soda jerk manned in the old days – rise from behind the bar.
For specialty drinks, there’s a fountain that pours a low-acidity carbonated water infused with flavor-enhancing minerals. Specialty drinks on offer this weekend will be Mexican Chile Lime, which is refreshing with a very subtle heat; Blue Lagoon, a curacao and pineapple blend; and Sour Patch, for those who like it sour.
A contraption next to the fountain delivers a cold blast that instantly freezes mugs with a layer of frost. Because the floor of the old building is no longer level, patrons on the stools are perched at varying levels over the bar top. It’s a subtle thing that adds to the character of the room.
Kast Iron also sells throwback candies that are hard to find, and vintage candles. But it’s not all about the old days.
“We have some pretty potent WiFi in here for those who want to sit and do some school work or Zoom meetings,” Leslie says.
The most eye-catching element is the hundreds of bottles of pop lined up on shelves behind the bar. They run the gamut from historic to humorous.
“We have everything from traditional draft root beer, all kinds of colas and every fruity flavor you can think of – and some you didn’t think of,” Leslie says. “We also have some weird flavors that kids and adults will try. Things like pickle and sweet corn, and some things that sound nasty but are not, like Alien Snot, which is really just blue raspberry and orange flavored. Kids enjoy the label and the name.”
Kast Iron carries the Gross Gus line of sodas, with names like Dragon Drool and Bloody Nose.
The Klines also make in-house a frozen sweet cream for floats. It adds the sweetness and creaminess of ice cream but without the vanilla flavor. It’s best not to add vanilla to some of the pop flavors, Leslie explains.
“With root beer or orange cream soda, vanilla is fantastic, and expected,” she says. “But for some flavors, to add vanilla might not be good.”
One thing Kast Iron does not sell is food. “But we’re open to people bringing food in with them, or ordering a pizza and having it delivered here,” Will says.
Kast Iron Soda Works is open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.