The Kaiser’s Tale
A Midtown soda fountain keeps its legacy alive
Photos courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society
At the intersection of NW 10th and Walker sits a stylish little café called the Grateful Bean. But to most long-time Oklahoma City residents, it’s known simply as “Kaiser’s.”
It was a century ago in 1917 when young entrepreneur Tony Kaiser, an immigrant from Switzerland, opened his ice cream parlor. Kaiser’s concoctions were known for their purity and richness, and he received requests from around the country. Tony ran the business until he retired in 1957, then his son took over for the next few decades.
Kaiser’s, in its original form, ultimately closed in 1990.
As the downtown and Midtown areas began their renaissance, interest quickly began to grow in Kaiser’s – at least in bringing the building back to life. Today, local attorney Peter Schaffer operates the restaurant and soda fountain.
“The menu is a mix between vegetarian-friendly and meat-lovers friendly,” says Schaffer. “It also has the very best soda fountain in Oklahoma City.”
Indeed, the soda fountain is a historical part of the restaurant’s charm. Although not original to the space, the current soda fountain dates all the way back to 1950. There’s a fully operational old-fashioned Coca-Cola dispenser that also was installed in 1950, and Schaffer said it makes a truly delicious and different Coke.
The earth-tone ceramic tile on the soda fountain counter is original from 1917. Other details, such as the lighting fixtures and stained glass, have been painstakingly recreated to mirror what was popular in Oklahoma City in the early 20th century.
Another special aspect to the Grateful Bean is that Schaffer’s staff is made up largely of individuals who have been incarcerated.
“All of us need a second or a third or a fourth chance at one time or another,” he asserts. “It’s a way of giving back to the community – the entire community. Our mission is that we don’t employ people to operate a restaurant; we operate a restaurant to employ people.”
It’s important, Schaffer said, for everyone to succeed and to feel they have something to offer. He also has reached out to an old friend, local restaurant owner Sean Cummings, to help beef up the menu and the performance of the staff.
“Sean has already started training staff at the Bean,” Schaffer says. “He is fine-tuning our operation. And who is more qualified than Sean, the consummate restaurateur?”
Cummings, who with his wife Cathy owns Vito’s Ristorante, said he is trying to teach procedures to help the staff grow and learn the restaurant business.
“I asked employees what I do here,” Cummings explains. “An 18-year-old young lady named Janet said I teach people things and give really good advice. And when dealing with the cooks, I teach them to be more organized and put out a more beautiful plate of food. Then I try to instill positive thought patterns and pride in doing something you are really proud of.”
Kaiser’s Grateful Bean is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
“I would like to extend a personal invitation to all 405 Magazine readers,” Schaffer smiles. “The Kaiser’s tradition continues, so come on in!”