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Shell’s Slush

“One cherry-vanilla-lemon Sun Drop slush please.”

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Today, Shell’s BBQ is over three times the size of the original building.

When you return to Hickory, North Carolina from wherever you have been, before you call your parents, visit your grandmother, or unpack your suitcase, the same sentence always comes first. Known around town as Shell’s slush, this sweet beverage has been a dietary staple of the St. Stephens neighborhood for generations.

It is the first thing a traveling Hickory-ite wants when they cross the border into town, and the last thing they need before heading out again. Just over a mile from St. Stephens High School, Shell’s Bar-be-cue sells slushes at the homecoming festival and after hours when the football team plays at home—win or lose. Their sweet sticky coolness is shared over conversations with family, work friends, classmates, coaches, and pastors alike. Shell’s slushes are used as a bartering tool to please the school secretary, or as a bribe to silence younger siblings. “I’ll buy you a slush if you don’t tell Mom!”

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Current owners Lisa and Bee Watts with Lisa’s parents, former owners Mable and Wayne Hollar.
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Shell’s menu from the original building, opened in 1952.

How does the sight of a single white Styrofoam to-go cup possess such power? Sometimes all it takes is the unique mixture of flavors, the sweetness of vanilla against the citrus of Sun Drop soda. Others prefer the ritual: pulling up to the drive thru, ordering “just a slush,” having exact change of $1.16, expecting a familiar face at the window, and finally swirling the bright yellow and red layers together before the first jubilant slurp. For me, it is also the history.

Each sip of a slush is a reminder of how deeply my family’s history is rooted in St. Stephens.

Before I was meeting my high school friends for slushes and cheese fries at the Shell’s counter, my dad and his friends were sneaking out of study hall to return with slushes to share. My mother was stopping by to grab slushes for her dance teammates before the St. Stephens Indianettes practice. Before them, my grandparents—high school sweethearts—were cruising after school in the Shell’s parking lot splitting a chicken salad sandwich and a Coke for $1.50. Shell’s has served my neighborhood since 1952; first as an 800 square-foot diner with curbside service and now in a building three times the size. Each sip of a slush is a reminder of how deeply my family’s history is rooted in St. Stephens. The sense of community and history of past generations has always been present at Shell’s, but I had to miss its sticky vinyl booths and that first icy sip of a slush before appreciating this deeply-rooted local institution.

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My grandmother recalls the original building being so small, Shell’s provided curbside service to cars in the parking lot.

The Shell’s slush represents all the good parts of my hometown. Quick chats with owners Lisa and Bee when they check on our table, reading St. Stephens sports articles from the Hickory Daily Record hung proudly on the walls, greeting old friends from high school. These shared moments over a slush keep me returning to Hickory. The genuine, sweet smiles of the usuals, the familiarity, and the enveloping sense of community cannot be found anywhere else. And of course, neither can a Shell’s slush.

Sara Carter