Cleveland-based Old City Soda Headed for Columbus

Old City Soda’s portfolio of all-natural, preservative-free sodas will soon be quenching Columbus palates.

If the name sounds familiar even though the beverage currently has a limited presence in Central Ohio, it’s because the Cleveland-based beverage maker is fresh off an investment as one of the winners of new CNBC show Cleveland Hustles.

With LeBron James as an executive producer, “[The show] is all about the revitalization of Cleveland through entrepreneurship and business,” says Old City Soda Co-Founder Sean Adkins. 

Adkins is joined by his cousin, Mike Gulley, in the operation. Gulley started making his own sodas from scratch to use in cocktails. The drinks gained a following and started selling out whenever the soda got involved. Then Gulley started taking the bubbly beverage to festivals and markets.oldcity1

Business was about to go bi-city. Adkins, who grew up in Cleveland but has lived in Columbus for the last two decades, asked his cousin in 2014, do you want to do something legit with this or just do it on the side? The answer was let’s get it rolling.

At the time the business was called Cleveland Soda Works. One of the first things Adkins said was, “We really need to change that because nobody outside Cleveland really cares about Cleveland.”

The Old City name gives a nod to their family history. As maternal cousins, their mothers shared the last name of Altstadt, which literally means old city in German. 

It’s also symbolic of the way they like to do things.

The products that we are making are kind of an homage back to a way that craft sodas and sodas used to be made,” Adkins says. 

Old City Soda’s sippers have a different feel and taste than the average bottle of syrupy Coke. Absent is a sugary, heavy feel, instead the beverage offers a light, crisp more dry mouthfeel. Adkins best describes the taste as a lightly sugared carbonated fruit juice.

There’s a core offering of fruit flavors, hitting the main citrus – lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange blossom. There’s also a ginger beer, Old City Soda’s first flavor and a hit with the Moscow Mule crowd.

Strawberry and ginger combine in another bottle, representing one of Old City Soda’s more unique flavors. The combo was a happy accident when Gulley was making a one-off strawberry soda but accidentally combined it with a ginger brew. Old City Soda also holds the market on cinnamon soda as Adkins has yet to find anyone else running the flavor in the U.S.

We want to do things that are unique but also really simple,” he says. 

While the soda market has seen some interesting flavor combos in recent years, Adkins is focused on tastes that have staying power.

Old City Soda distributes its beverages to about 50 to 60 restaurants in northeast Ohio, “A lot of it used within cocktail programs at restaurants,” Adkins says. 

The beverage maker has largely focused on restaurants to start versus retail because of the product’s shelf stability. Since it’s all-natural, the soda must stay refrigerated. That’s about to change, though.

oldcity2Old City Soda is currently testing a method that would keep the soda all-natural but create shelf stability. That factor will play a major role in Old City Soda’s expansion into Columbus and other markets.

Adkins says to expect more of an Old City Soda presence in Columbus bars and retailers in the next month or so. The tonic and ginger beer sodas are already on the menu at Cameron Mitchell restaurant the Guild House and, “You’ll see us expand more into their portfolio,” Adkins says. 

Columbus could potentially be home to the brand’s second soda bar. Opening a retail concept in Gordon Square in Cleveland was one of the main deals of participating in Cleveland Hustles.

You can come in and see how you use our products in alcohol-based drinks as well as straight up soda,” Adkins says. 

He thinks a high foot traffic area in Columbus like Short North, Italian Village or Franklinton could be ideal for a second spot.

We also think it’s a great market given the demographics and the youth in the market that I think would care about a product like this,” Adkins adds. 

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