A full tilt soda scene is happening at a Mission storefront, where shoppers can find over 900 sodas and beverages in every shade and from many eras. There’s an appealing array of old fashioned candies with a friendly crew at The Fizzary Soda Menagerie, on a once sleepy stretch of Mission Street between 25th and 26th. The Fizzary serves up a vibrant and social shopping scene complete with free taffy with purchase and a mysterious looking soda chiller that brings soda to the perfect cold temperature in five minutes. Many guests on a recent visit would buy a bottle or two of a soda like Green River lime soda that seemed to illustrate a return to a sweet childhood memory. I was tempted to buy a six pack of Jolt cola as a reminder of my own memorable 1986 slumber birthday party that included scary movies, tee-peeing and talking into the wee morning hours. The Fizzary opened last year and is operated by Aaron Dolson and Taylor Peck, who started Taylor’s Tonics in Santa Cruz before moving their operation to the City.
The duo is a NorCal success story, and have the words “San Francisco/Santa Cruz” emblazoned on each Taylor’s Tonics bottle. They use Square for payments at The Fizzary and received a visit from Square Grand Poobah Jack Dorsey recently, who brought a camera crew along. Back in 2009, Peck embarked on a quest to make organic fizzy treats. With a little seed money provided by San Francisco based David Rio Tea Company, Peck and Dolson joined forces and Taylor’s Tonics Botanical Soda Kitchen was created. The product line is sold for $2 a bottle at the Fizzary (like all the other products there) and has elixirs that includes Chai Cola, Mate’ Mojito, and a holiday collection. Taylor’s Tonics did steady business at last month’s Fancy Food Show, and can be found in 40 states and 600 retail locations.
Peck said the Fizzary exists “to bring as many independent, domestic brands as possible under one roof for retail display.” He has helped folks who are new to the soda and retail world in a “pay it forward” style that fits his outgoing personality. Bay Area Bites caught up with these young soda kings to find out about their new business, what soda's they recommend and their thoughts on anti-soda legislation. Their comments have been edited for content and clarity.
Bay Area Bites: Why do the Fizzary in San Francisco? Or even in the Mission District?
Peck: We started in Santa Cruz as a tea company and wanted a little more taste of the big city. So we moved the whole operation up here. David Rio helped us finance our Chai Cola and we ran the soda line out of a suite near Rainbow Grocery. Then we were at 7th and Brannan but that burned down. So we set up operations in Bayshore temporarily.
We looked for property in SOMA and Mission exclusively. This location couldn’t be more perfect. We appreciate Valencia and the deep Mission and knew we had a stand-alone ‘go-to’ destination. Our plan was to turn into a brewing area for our herbal concentrates and have the public see the process and the treats we have in here. We needed foot traffic, visibility and a minimally industrial showroom workshop. It was literally a long run. There has been a lot of turnover on this something of a sleepy block. We’ve gotten a very warm reception with our neighbors and we are very outgoing and colorful. This space gives us a little more opportunity to shine with our DIY vibe rather than being somewhere in Fisherman’s Wharf, Valencia Street or Union Square.
Bay Area Bites: You had plans to use this as an event space. Is that still the case?
Peck: Yes and no. We have a bottling workshop and are able to do events for 100 people or so that are much more specialized and custom. The event needs to be able to integrate well into our production space in back. There is definitely room for both but it is not just an open conference space. If you want to do a performance by a giant steel kettle, that’ll work here. Having uplit LED lights on our apparatus is actually pretty cool, and we’ve done that since moving here. There can be a bar set up back there and folks can start with a soda up front with us.
Bay Area Bites: What are your bestsellers? What's best for daytime sipping versus nighttime?
Dolson: People like the uncategorized and the unique: cucumber, ouzo, rhubarb, red hot, Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray, butterscotch, and even bug barf. People also shop based on the look of the label, whether it is antique or generic.
Peck: I have to recommend Taylor’s Tonics, Café Azteca and Espresso Cola—-our shop is set up to subtly recommend our product line. Joia all natural soda from Minnesota is more like a fruit drink. Root beer and ginger ale are absolutely the top sellers. We intentionally set up the space so root beer and ginger ale are on different sides. You can see on the weekends how people split, with root beer over there and ginger ale over there.
Dolson: For daytime sipping, some people come here right when we open for Dr. Pepper to start the day. There is Dublin Dr. Pepper, which is special. We bought the last pallet of them.
Bay Area Bites: Are there any sodas that have potential aphrodisiac properties and would good for dates and special occasions like Valentine’s Day?
Peck: There’s Nexcite, which is a Swedish love potion. Love Potion No. 69 also works!
Bay Area Bites: You had a booth at the Fancy Food Show and BAB's Stephanie Hua covered your "Untraditional Sodas." How did the show go? Had you been before?
Peck: We had not gone as exhibitors but had been there as attendees for many years. The show is in our backyard and we talked to a lot of people and had good sales. The natural food products show in Anaheim is our main show.
Bay Area Bites: How do most of your customers find the shop?
Peck: I’ve been surprised at how many people have searched us out. We get 60 percent foot and 40 percent destination shoppers. That’s a testament to food bloggers who wrote about us when we first opened -- everyone came to visit from that. We don’t take anything for granted. We had a national wholesale operation for four years yet our media coverage now is far more than anything during those years.
Bay Area Bites: What is the sugar content of your Taylor’s Tonics?
Peck: All have unrefined organic sugar cane and a small dose of stevia to get the sugar level down and keep the drink to under ten calories. About two years ago it would’ve been 50-50. We have a lot of transition batches in the shop where folks are cycling through and getting sugar used. Our sugar price went up for organic from 60 cents to now a $1.30 a pound, which is a complete reaction to the consumer. We joke that we shot ourselves in the foot. The upside is we are stuck in the same boat with our competitors.
Bay Area Bites: How do you feel about the proposed soda tax and move against sodas in Richmond, CA and New York state?
Peck: We’re not opposed to it. Soda is a luxury, an indulgence. I drink copious amounts of it. I think the legislation is wisely written to tax over a certain ounce. I don’t believe it should be vilified. It’s an indulgence – when you attack based on sugar and carbonation, just think about some unfiltered apple juice that has more sugar for comparison. The informed consumer is able to enjoy what’s in the shop. We set up our model to be a four pack. At the same time you can’t get a mixed pack like that at Safeway. We’re not so afraid of the legislation. The only time you get more than 12 ounces here, you’re paying for it. We offer sugar free and other options. The legislation changes will affect the corner bodega or Safeway more.