Four Sisters Turned Deserted Parking Lot Into Dessert Hotspot

July 1, 2019
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By Scott Gelman

Cher was initially disappointed when she arrived at Southwest Soda Pop Shop at the Wharf last summer, the store’s owners said. After a show nearby at National Harbor, the singer asked her driver to stop because she had discovered the soda and dessert shop had dipped ice cream on the menu. 

But at the family-owned business, “dipped” didn’t mean draped into a topping of choice. Instead, the term describes the hard ice cream stored in the freezer. Still, she settled for mint chocolate chip and said it was the best she ever had. 

The interaction exemplifies the nostalgia the four Jones sisters, who all have different roles in the operation, want customers to feel as they approach the shop’s window. It’s uniquely D.C. and fully embraces the changes the Wharf has undergone since their father, Darryl Jones, set up vending machines in the area in 1993.

“This spot used to be a parking lot,” Brittany Jones said. “We weren’t able to be as hands on. It wasn’t as family friendly.” 

After a friend recruited him to help work at the Wharf, Darryl noticed that because the electricity was poor, there were just a few soda machines. Following a chat with Coca-Cola, it became 20. Eventually, he became one of the first black men to own a business on the waterfront property. 

Despite Darryl’s commitment to improving the area, his daughters didn’t see much of it growing up. Instead, they would stay awake all night counting the quarters from the vending machines. 

When the family learned of plans to upgrade the Wharf in 2014, its first thought was to open a soda shop. But then, the sisters interjected. Why not add milkshakes?

The shop opened last May, with the naming honoring Darryl. He’s the “pop” in the title, and a soda float is his go-to. 

“He always poured into us to do whatever we wanted to do,” Brianna Jones said. “When I say that’s our guy, that’s our guy.” 

The shop features sodas, ice cream and yogurt, banana splits and homemade ice cream sandwiches, but its most popular item was born during its grand opening ceremony. One of the Jones sisters shared a photo of a large cake, which sparked an idea for the “Cake Explosion” menu item. 

It’s a mixture of birthday cake ice cream and actual cake, with some sprinkles and fresh cream on top. 

Locals frequent the shop for their soft serve, which the sisters noticed was difficult to find in D.C. 

“It’s about creativity,” Brittany said. “We take ideas and run with them. It helps that these are not franchises.” 

Since the opening, customers have approached the shop aware that it began with Darryl’s connection to the soda machines, Brittany and Brianna said. Those who aren’t, like Cher, become quickly familiar when glancing at the menu. 

And the neighborhood, despite ongoing changes, continues to embrace the little dessert shop at the end of the Wharf. 

“Everything’s about growing,” Brittany said. “Be the person that’s not resistant to change.”

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