Brothers Ash and Brandon Shahniani had a childhood that most would envy—they grew up in a soda fountain shop. When their parents, Ed and Zahra, purchased Fair Oaks Pharmacy in 2005, they wasted no time in getting their two children involved in the family business, which started out with the boys becoming dishwashers, then eventually servers. 13 years later, the now-grown men are the shop’s full-time managers, while their mother still works as the pharmacist.
“What’s there not to love about growing up here?” said Brandon. “Ash is five years older than me, so when we were little, he would walk over from the middle school and pick me up at the elementary school, we’d walk here together, finish our homework, then start washing dishes, bussing tables and serving people until the end of the night. Since a young age, we were programed to have jobs. My teachers, classmates and friends would always come in to hang out. Now that I’m older, my former teachers bring in their current students for ice cream, so we all hang out together. It’s the most fun place to be.”
Fair Oaks Pharmacy is home to an actual pharmacy, which Zahra oversees. As a compounding pharmacy, they hand make medications for patients, and can even create fun flavors like piña colada or cherry to make them more appealing. They also make custom pet medications in a range of textures and flavors like beef, chicken and tuna. Another bonus is that they can deliver prescriptions not only around South Pasadena but to surrounding areas as well.
Then there’s the soda fountain and retail shop, which is generously stocked with a variety of gift items, old-fashioned candy, Star Wars merchandise, and more. Fair Oaks Pharmacy is one of the few remaining places that still has a soda fountain and pharmacy paired together, and they serve Rickey’s (lime or cherry syrup with soda water) as well as Phosphates (flavored syrup splashed with soda water and a flavor of choice).
“Back in the day, soda fountains were always paired with pharmacies,” explained Brandon. “You’d go to the pharmacy and get your medication, which would taste horrible, so then you’d chase it down with a drink at the soda fountain. Nowadays, people just come for the soda fountain or our desserts, but we still hand make all of our Italian sodas. We can also create custom drinks, so you can order anything from a lavender Coke to a desert pear Sprite. Aside from that, we also have an extensive food and breakfast menu that we serve all day long.”
Their menu features a lot of signature items that were popular back in the day, like their All American Banana Split, which consists of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream topped with hot fudge, strawberry and pineapple sauces all nestled inside a split banana. In addition to salads, sandwiches, melts and sides like fries and onion rings, they are also known for their burgers—including Brandon’s Tater Tot Burger, which features tater tots bunched up in melted cheese and covered in Thousand Island dressing.
“Our seasonal menu is something that we’re trying out for the first time,” said Brandon. “For the month of October, we have a Candy Corn Ice Cream Sundae, and the most popular dish so far has been the Pumpkin Pie Sundae, which is made with a base of graham cracker crumbs topped with pumpkin ice cream and marshmallow topping.”
What’s extra special about Fair Oaks Pharmacy is its history: It was founded in 1915 by Gertrude Osmond, who was one of the first female entrepreneurs of her time. It was also one of the few establishments in South Pasadena at the time that allowed black people to come in. The Shahnianis have also made it a point to preserve as much of the original foundations as possible—aside from moving the retail section to the back, adding more tables in the front and removing some carpet from the dining area, everything else remains virtually untouched.
“I feel like this ground is enchanted and that it’s been around for so long because it comes from such a humble upbringing that is timeless and will live on,” said Brandon. “Everything is mostly original here, including the tile, the stools and the bar. I’ve heard stories that when they brought the marble bar in here years before we owned the place, that crowds of people came to watch it be installed.”
To celebrate its 100-year anniversary a few years ago, Fair Oaks Pharmacy decorated the store and had special black and gold uniforms made for its employees. It has also appeared in numerous commercials, TV shows and films, including the film Ouija: Origin of Evil–Brandon said their retail area has been sold out of Ouija boards ever since.
In addition to being located along the Route 66 Route, making it a popular destination for those traveling across country, Fair Oaks Pharmacy is also a favorite among elderly care homes that take field trips there. A few weeks ago, it hosted a special night at the local senior center in South Pasadena, where employees built a soda fountain and served ice cream to everyone during a screening of Grease.
“It’s such a great place to walk into and see what 104 years of history looks like,” said Brandon. “It’s just such a fun place for everyone to come and experience. Everyone in the community has grown up with us and everyone knows about us, so everyone has their own special way of celebrating here. We love having first-time visitors and we love having our regulars come in. We welcome everyone here.”
Fair Oaks Pharmacy is located at 1526 Mission St. The soda fountain and gift store are open Mon. – Thur. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m, Fri. – Sat. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sun. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The pharmacy is open Mon. – Fri. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and closed on Sundays. The kitchen is open Mon. – Thur. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sun. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (626) 799-1414 or visit fairoakspharmacy.net.
The Fair Oaks Pharmacy Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 10.26.18. Support Local Business.