The Tin Roof: Potter Sundry famous for yummy creation

Potter Sundry waitress Paula Steiner adds a covering of marshmallow cream to a Tin Roof Sundae. The ice cream treat is said to have been invented at the sundry by Harold Dean “Pinky” Thayer, whose father was a pharmacist at the business in the early 1900s. Photo by Roger Holsinger

POTTER — While many small towns across the region are struggling to stay alive, Potter might be the exception.

With a population of 400 people, the community has taken it upon itself to ensure its prosperity by offering unique shops, celebrations and a glimpse into the community’s history.

One of those historical places is the Potter Sundry, which once served as a pharmacy.

While some of the original aspects of the business are still present, the business is now known for its food and an ice cream creation known as the Tin Roof Sundae.

From all accounts, the structure was built in 1914, two years after Potter was incorporated. The Potter Drug Co. opened its doors around 1916 and served as a drug store.

The pharmacist at the sundry was James Earl Thayer, whose son, Harold Dean “Pinky” Thayer is credited for inventing the ice cream treat. According to Dr. J.E. Thayer of Sidney, the family lived above the pharmacy and as a teenager, Pinky worked at the soda fountain. Thayer said there are two stories as to how the ice cream treat got its name. The first is that the treat was named the Tin Roof Sundae because of the tin ceiling in the business. The other, Thayer said, is that there was a stable business across the street that had a tin roof and that he named it after that.

“He was my older brother and was always pulling my leg, so I didn’t know what to believe,” Thayer said.

Today that roof is not visible but still remains, and the community is raising funds to refurbish the old tiles and have them visible again.

The sundry is owned and managed by the Potter Historical Foundation. Dr. Steve and Margaret Davis purchased the property and donated it back to the foundation so that the business would continue to operate.

Pam Beavers, who has managed the sundry for the past year, said they stay busy and that during the annual Potter Days celebration, it’s not uncommon for them to make hundreds of the Tin Roof Sundaes.

The Tin Roof consists of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, chocolate ice cream, marshmallow cream and nuts. The treat comes in three sizes: mini, medium and large.

“Very few people can get through the large,” Beavers said.

She said that the business continues to be well supported by the community and that many people come to the sundry because they’ve heard about the Tin Roof.

“We have had people come here as far as California for a Tin Roof, and other people make this a stop during their family vacations.”

While the business is known for its ice cream, it also offers a varied menu. Beavers said some of the favorites include chicken fried steaks, pan fried chicken and the prime rib.

The sundry sports the original bar and the Tin Roof Sundaes are still served in some of the original ice cream glassware. In addition, the original soda fountain is still operational.

Maida Gotfrey, managed the sundry for eight years, retiring in 2008. She said that during her time at the business, some things changed.

“We went from a little sandwich shop to a full service restaurant with ice cream,” she said.

As with many small-town businesses, Gotfrey said trying to find help is often hard but added that the community support has always been there.

“This place will be here long after we’re all gone,” added Gotfrey.

Kirk Enevoldsen, chairman of the Potter Historical Foundation, said the community is very fortunate to have the business and even more fortunate to have someone like the Davis family helping the community. Steve Davis graduated from Potter High School and now lives in a suburb of Denver.

In addition to the sundry, the historical foundation also owns the building next to it, which was the old hardware store built in 1919. Enevoldsen said his family purchased the hardware building after seeing it sit empty for a few months. He said the family didn’t want to see it deteriorate because of its historical value to the town.

“It was one of the cornerstones of the community and we didn’t want it to fall into a state of disrepair,” he said.

The Enevoldsen family purchased it and made the needed repairs and then gifted the building to the foundation. It operates as a flea market and antique mall. In the upstairs portion of the flea market is a duckpin bowling alley, believed to be the only functioning duckpin alley west of the Mississippi River. The community also has the original railroad depot, which serves as one of the town’s two museums.

Enevoldsen said the community saw the largest population increase, per capita, in the Panhandle during the last census and that is what keeps the community succeeding is its people.

“We have a good group of volunteers — 25 to 30 of us — that roll up our sleeves when there is work to be done because we strongly believe in that first impression. When people come into town for a visit or to have a Tin Roof, we want them to know that we care and that this is a great place to live and raise a family.”

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