However, few fans realize how much the man underneath the big yellow hat, company CEO Jimmy Rane, has helped his hometown through his passion for historical preservation.
Rane has undertaken several restoration projects in Abbeville, including converting a Standard Oil gas station into office space for Great Southern Wood. He has also renovated local storefronts and the Archie Theatre marquee to appear as they did during his childhood.
One of the most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike is Huggin’ Molly’s, an old-fashioned soda fountain and fine dining restaurant that Rane opened in May 2006.
“For many years, I’ve wanted our young people in Abbeville today to have a way to experience life as I knew it growing up here in the 1950s,” Rane said. “For far too many of them, the closest they had ever come to an authentic soda fountain was something they saw in a movie. To play a role in giving them that first-hand experience has been more fun than I can describe.”
The lunch menu at Huggin’ Molly’s features classic recipes such as grilled cheese and the 431 Steak Sandwich as well as sandwiches that are named for either members of Rane’s family or streets around Abbeville.
Popular treats from the soda fountain include ice cream sundaes, sodas and floats, banana splits, milkshakes and malts and the Golly Molly — a brownie covered in ice cream and hot fudge and topped with nuts, whipped cream and a cherry.
The decor at Huggin’ Molly’s facilitates the feeling that visitors are “frozen in the Fifties.”
The fixtures, including the marble-top booths and 1939 Liquid Carbonic Company soda fountain, were originally part of a drugstore built in Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1926.
Rane bought the entire collection of antiques at auction.
Other interesting artifacts at Huggin’ Molly’s are a turn-of-the-century bicycle in the front window, a 1939 50th Anniversary Coca-Cola sign and a variety of period candy jars, vintage posters and pharmacy items.
The building itself once housed Abbeville’s Central Drugstore and was stripped down to its original 1906 brick walls while being restored.
The restaurant is named for a ghost that once roamed the streets of Abbeville, according to local legend.
She is frequently described as a giant of a woman, maybe seven feet tall and as big around as a bale of cotton.
“There are a number of versions and variations of the story. But the story I was told is that Molly comes out at night and walks the streets searching for a child that she had lost,” Rane said.
“If she finds you out after dark, she’ll grab you from behind in a tight hug and scream in your ear. To an eight-year-old, that’s plenty of motivation to get home before dark!”
Rane added that he hopes naming the restaurant in Molly’s honor will help ensure that the local folk tale will continue to be passed down from generation to generation for years to come.
Lunch is served at Huggin’ Molly’s and the soda fountain is open Monday through Saturday.
Dinner is served Thursday through Saturday and breakfast is served Friday through Saturday.
Other options for hungry vacationers this summer:
Five Points South has several restaurants that have received national attention in recent years.
Highlands Bar and Grill has been named one of the top five restaurants in America by the James Beard Foundation multiple times, according to the Alabama Department of Tourism website. Its signature baked grits is listed on the department’s “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die” brochure.
Chris Hastings, chef of the nearby Hot and Hot Fish Club, won Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” last year and was also named Best Chef in the South by the James Beard Awards.
Other Birmingham-area restaurants that have received recognition from the James Beard Awards include Mountain Brook’s Ollie Irene, which was named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2012; Bettola in the Lakeview District, which earned Chef James Lewis a nod as a semifinalist for Best Chef in the South last year; and Bessemer’s The Bright Star, which was called an “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation in 2010.
Blue Bell Ice Cream, which opened a manufacturing facility in Sylacauga in 1996, offers guided tours by appointment Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
General admission is $3 and $2 for seniors 55 and older and children between the ages of 6 and 14.
The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes and includes a serving of ice cream at the end of the tour.
Cameras are not allowed on the factory floor but are permitted in the ice cream parlor where the samples are served.