This story was originally published in the 2014 June/July issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
Strawberry Jalapeno? Hibiscus Lemon? Clearly, Pure Sodaworks is a prime example of a small business success story in Chattanooga. With fizzy and distinctive flavors like these, this homegrown natural soda company has a devoted local following and is receiving notable national attention.
Owned and operated by self-proclaimed “soda jerks” Matt and Tiffany Rogers, Pure Sodaworks began as an offshoot of the Rogers’ already successful small business, Everyday Eclectic. After establishing an online presence for their company in 2007, the couple began selling at the Chattanooga Market a year later. There, Matt and Tiffany charmed customers with handcrafted lip balms and candles and then expanded to include other bodycare products like lotions and soaps.
In 2009, Matt and Tiffany moved into the Small Business Development INCubator, where they met other local entrepreneurs like Wendy and Brandon Buckner who opened the Hot Chocolatier. It was there that the couple started kicking around the idea of starting a food product. “Food always wins,” says Matt. “Everyone has to eat for one thing. And when it comes to what is compelling to people, chocolate will win over soap any day. There is no comparison.”
Because the duo was already accustomed to working with spices and herbs in their soap line, they wanted to create a product in which that knowledge would still be useful. In early 2011, they had the idea of creating a natural soda line they could sell at the Chattanooga Market alongside their candles and soaps. “We quickly realized that the sodas were a lot more compelling,” says Matt. “People were excited about it and restaurants began contacting us to serve our product.”
Over time, the Rogers, along with business partner Shawn Clouse, developed 6 unique flavors in their own “test” kitchen using real herbs and spices and all natural ingredients. “A lot of places that do flavor development are using synthetic compounds, so it’s a lot more complicated and an actual chemist is necessary,” says Matt. “If you are only using natural stuff, it just takes a lot of patience and trial and error.” The flavor Root Beer #4 is evidence of this process, as the Rogers used a 14-part ingredient list from the 1850s that didn’t include exact measurements and finally achieved the perfect blend of spices on their fourth attempt.
As more people began tasting the sodas, the community buzz led to a Kickstarter campaign in early 2012, through which $23,111 was raised. At the same time, Matt and Tiffany found a retail space on the Northshore. “Having our own retail space, we had a vehicle for trying out new product ideas rapidly,” says Matt. This time the creative couple started using individual brand names for all of their products under the Everyday Eclectic umbrella. These include the Old Bones Therapy spa and bodycare line, Plucky Charms jewelry, Bee in Your Bonnet organic honey, EE Home Fragrance candles, and of course, Pure Sodaworks.
Within the next year, the company was able to purchase a professional bottling machine with the funds raised from the Kickstarter, which sped up production and led to being picked up by a local distributor. Currently, Pure Sodaworks beverages can be found in about 50 locations locally, including some Mr. Zip convenient stores and area restaurants like Lupi’s Pizza, Southern Burger and Mojo Burrito. Customers at Clumpies Ice Cream can now also enjoy old-time ice cream soda treats like floats.
In addition to the sodas bottled with the Pure Sodaworks label, which are available in Apple Pie, Café Cola, Hibiscus Lemon, Honey Lime, Root Beer #4 and Strawberry Jalapeño, the small company also has developed signature sodas for several area establishments. When Enzo’s Market opened on the Southside in mid 2013, the owners contacted Pure Sodaworks to create the Blood Orange Italian soda. The company also worked with The Flying Squirrel to create the Habanero Ginger Beer, which can be enjoyed alone or in one of The Flying Squirrel’s signature cocktails. And, Barnsley Gardens Resort in Adairsville, Georgia has had it develop two signature flavors: Spicy Ginger Peach and Rosemary Lemonade.
As demand for their sodas was only increasing, it became more evident that it was time for another big move. “We kept getting more and more interest and saw the writing on the wall,” says Matt. “We knew we needed a facility to focus fully on production. Retail was great for product establishment but we needed a warehouse and loading docks.” This realization prompted their most recent move to a production location on Volunteer Drive where they have a full kitchen stocked with fresh spices for flavor development, loading docks and plenty of space for packing the sodas and all the other Everyday Eclectic products.
As Pure Sodaworks continues growing, the regional and national recognition only seems to be beginning. Garden & Gun magazine recognized the company in 2013 for the Made in the South Awards and they were also featured in the March 2014 issue of Food & Wine magazine. Recently, the company signed on with A & B Distributors in Knoxville and is working on establishing a presence in Nashville.
What began as merely another one of Matt and Tiffany’s creative product ideas has grown exponentially in short period of time. Matt attributes some of that growth to the unique development opportunities in Chattanooga and the receptive community here. “The Chattanooga area is very friendly towards startups. People get excited and inspired by each other, and then feed off that creative energy,” says Matt. “The opportunities are there and it’s really up to the individuals to take advantage of that. Locals in Chattanooga love supporting new local businesses. I’m not saying it is not difficult, but it’s definitely very friendly.”