That would be boring.
FiiZ in downtown Ogden — one of a growing number of soda shops scattered around Utah — serves Pear Nekked Berry, a Mountain Dew-based drink with shots of pear and blackberry syrup. The business also offers the Cocomo — Coca-Cola with coconut and chocolate syrup — and many more creatively flavored and named concoctions.
“Something about the added flavor makes it stand out, makes it more enjoyable,” explains Jessica Gustafson, drinking one of the drinks at the FiiZ counter with Jarod Wyzykowski.
Brooke Pearmain, a Fremont High School student waiting for her Lime Rickey, a Sprite-based beverage mixed with grape syrup and fresh lime, says it’s about being adventurous, getting away from the mundane. Plain old pop served by itself gets to be a drag.
“Just all of the different flavors and drinks and varieties,” she says, taking a break at FiiZ from her job at Megaplex Theatres just down the street. “You get sick of the same old flavors every day so you want to try something new.”
Whatever the appeal, the popularity of dirty drinks — the moniker for the mixed beverages popularized by Saint George-based Swig, the chain that helped launch the trend when its first locale opened in 2010 — can’t be denied.
FiiZ identifies 24 locations on its website while Swig opened its 18th location last month, with two more stores slated for ribbon cuttings in June. Provo-based Sodalicious has 12 locations.
Then there are independent, stand-alone outfits like Soda Factory, an Ogden drive-through soda shop on Washington Boulevard that Michael Maynor opened just last month.
“I just watched all the other places popping up,” said Maynor, who otherwise runs a small business fixing and distributing soft-drink machines and equipment. “It’s amazing.”
It’s a uniquely Utah thing, though there’s a smattering of stores in neighboring Arizona and Nevada, and the explosion of outlets has its roots, at least in part, in the state’s substantial Mormon population. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “frowns upon” coffee, as Maynor puts it, hence many in the church turn to pop as an alternative, though LDS adherents are hardly his only customers.
“We don’t consume large amounts of coffee here in Utah. We get our caffeine from our soda,” adds Nicole Tanner, majority owner of Swig.
Indeed, with the broad range of drinks they offer — none containing alcohol — places like FiiZ, Sodalicious and Swig act as stand-ins for coffee shops for those who might not frequent such locales.
Some 80 bottles of syrup and puree that serve as mixers are scattered along and around the main counter at FiiZ in Ogden. Then there are the many varieties of pop — Mountain Dew, Sprite, Coke, Pepsi, Fanta orange, Seagram’s ginger ale and more.
“I think that soda here is the beverage of choice,” said Shelly Betz, co-owner of Island Splash in Roy, another independent soda shop that also offers fresh baked goods. “We’re the Starbucks for the Mormon constituency.”
With the bright, lively decor common at many soda shops, Tanner says they can also serve as temporary refuges to the stresses of everyday life. Moms with kids in tow visit, as do teens, members of church groups, workers on break and others.
You get your mixed drink and a cookie, perhaps, “and all is right in the world,” Tanner says. “It turns into, I guess, a happy place.”
Elbows sometimes fly
While they may be happy places, soda stores are also serious business. Elbows can sometimes fly.
In 2015, Swig filed suit against Sodalicious in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, charging that the competitor infringed on its trademarked used of the word “dirty” in describing its drinks. Swig trademarked use of “dirty” in a 2014 filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Sodalicious rejected the charges and asked that the case be dismissed. It also filed a counterclaim last August, saying “dirty” was a generic descriptor for soft drinks “with an add-in,” asking that Swig’s trademark on use of the word be canceled. The case is still winding its way through court and a jury trial has been set for July 9, 2018.
“Competition is good for everyone. I don’t blame them,” Tanner, the Swig majority owner said, alluding to other players in the industry. Swig has locations in Bountiful, Clearfield and Clinton, and two more sites at Lagoon, the Farmington amusement park.
Still, while declining comment on the lawsuit since the case is still ongoing, she charged that Sodalicious is a “knock-off” of Swig.
A Sodalicious rep didn’t immediately respond to a Standard-Examiner query seeking comment. But in one of the court filings in the case, the company noted that the industry is expansive — with more than 200 locales in Utah that serve soda with added flavors.
Demand and growth
That underscores another aspect of the sector — seemingly strong demand and growth potential.
“I don’t see it slowing down,” said Shalee Timothy, who co-owns four FiiZ franchises, including the Ogden location. “We’re only seeing it get busier.”
Betz, co-owner of Island Splash, said opening a soda store is pretty straightforward and doesn’t necessarily require a huge investment. “I think it’s a very easy thing to duplicate,” she said.
But store operators say they work hard to create unique flavors and differentiate their operations. And Tanner, whose Swig outlets also feature cookies, said operators have to make sure they move enough goods to keep in the black.
“It seems simple, but there’s a lot that goes into it,” she said. “You have to sell a lot of soda and cookies to make a go of it.”
Whatever the case, that’s not stopping entrepreneurs like Timothy and Maynor.
Timothy, clued in to the popularity of soda stores after visiting a FiiZ location in Kaysville, is mulling the possible acquisition of more franchises. Maynor, too, dreams of more.
“I’m already looking at other locations,” he said.