In a world of chic high-end restaurants, trendy coffee houses and increasingly diverse tastes in food, Columbians may find a nostalgic dining experience a welcome change. The Fountain Room on the River at 1732 Broad River Road should fit that bill nicely.
Many Columbians fondly remember the original Fountain Room at Tapp’s that was located in the Tapp’s department store at the corner of Main and Blanding from the early 1900s until 1995. Now, the memorable corn sticks and vegetable soup, along with many other favorites from the original restaurant, can be savored once more. The Fountain Room has reopened in a new location, where tributes from the past merge with the edgy feel of today’s community to create an inviting venue for lunch, dinner or music. A blending of original furnishings, local art and thrift store finds makes for an eclectic but traditional feel. For anyone who has recollections of the original Fountain Room as a gathering place, the nostalgia of the place is tangible.
Frederick Hogsett, II decided to open The Fountain Room on the River after months of negotiations with city officials and wide support from the community. “I saw how the original Fountain Room reflected the culture of the community. It was a meeting place. I have lots of friends who ate at the original location as kids and later served as employees of the downtown businesses.”
Frederick’s new venture combines the nostalgic feel of the restaurant with his commitment to excellent service in order to build a loyal customer base. Local food and a changing menu also will cater to today’s diners’ preferences. “But the vegetable soup and corn sticks will be a staple,” he promises.
“I have been playing with the original corn stick recipe,” Frederick says. “I am using lard like the original calls for.” Frederick even went to Bill Allen, vice president of Adluh Flour, to see if he could get the same type of cornmeal that was used in the original corn sticks. “Bill Allen, whose family owns Adluh and who was a delivery driver in the 1970s, told me the cornmeal has changed a little from the original to accommodate a supplier many years ago.” Nevertheless, it will work fine, Frederick reports, so the corn sticks will feature local Adluh cornmeal.
Cast iron corn stick molds and old menus were some of the items salvaged from the original Fountain Room location.
The corn sticks will be baked in cast iron pans that Frederick has found in antique stores and flea markets. “I’m trying to collect as many of these as possible to maintain the original look and taste of the corn sticks.” Records found during the demolition of the original restaurant show that the original Fountain Room was turning out up to 1,400 corn sticks daily at its peak.
As for the vegetable soup, Frederick says he hasn’t found the original recipe, but he’s been experimenting and thinks he’s found a winning combination. “It’s just vegetables, no meat.”
Frederick says that he plans to offer three lunch specials daily. This could include salmon, baked chicken or a taco salad – he’s aiming for a wide variety. “I don’t want people to get bored coming here for lunch.” The menu will also include three specials at dinner each evening. Prices will remain reasonable, Frederick emphasizes, with the lunch menu ranging from $3.50 to $9 and dinner prices ranging from $6 to $12.
In the tradition of the original Fountain Room, Frederick anticipates naming some of the menu items after notable local residents. Mayor Benjamin has received the honor first with the “The Benjamin,” described on the menu as a turkey Monte Cristo with Swiss cheese on French toasted wheat bread with strawberry compote.
While tradition and nostalgia are part of Frederick’s vision for The Fountain Room on the River, the menu will feature more than just vegetable soup and cornbread sticks.
“I envision the crowd varying in age,” Frederick says. “I don’t want to scare off the 70-year-old couple out for a nice dinner but also don’t want to be too stuffy for the young folks.”
A line-up of jazz music at lunch and at dinner should bridge any age gaps, Frederick says. “We are looking at bringing in a variety of local and regional artists, and we’re even getting calls from national artists who may be interested in playing here.”
Frederick comes to The Fountain Room on the River well prepped for success after many years in the catering and restaurant business. He quickly credits his early career years with the Perkins chain and with Rush’s as the foundation for his deep commitment to quality and customer service. His past work also includes stints as a DJ for live events and on the radio. Radio fans may recognize his voice – he goes by the name Rick Smooth on 103.1 KISS-FM. “I’ve always had a love for food, restaurants and entertaining. The Fountain Room on the River combines these loves,” he says.
When asked what has surprised him most as he gets the restaurant up and running, Frederick points to the memories the Fountain Room evokes in so many people he encounters. “I love hearing the stories, hearing from past employees and shoppers. I had no idea Tapp’s was the second integrated store in Columbia. The Tapp family obviously created a great sense of community among their employees and shoppers. I plan to do the same.”