When he walks out the front door of Southside Craft Soda every day, co-founder Andrew Anguiano sees life bustling in a busy community built on land he says his ancestors farmed as far back as the 1700s.
His roots are deep on the South Side of San Antonio, where the business is, and in South Texas, where the ingredients for Southside products are grown. Such a rich history in the area inspired the startup’s name and spurs Anguiano as the business blossoms in what once was a small market owned by his great-aunt.
Fellow Southside co-founder Gregg Spickler reports for duty most days at Alamo Beer Co., where he oversees brewery operations and experiments with different soda flavors that are made and bottled in partnership with the brewery.
Spickler learned to be a chef attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He honed his craft beer brewing at Alamo Beer Co. during an earlier stint with the company. He also raises bees and uses the honey they produce in Southside products such as a honey cream soda called Hometown Honey, which is one of the company’s first two offerings.
Anguiano and Spickler have their own interests and specialties but they’re entrepreneurs at heart. They are introducing TexaCola on Saturday at a launch party at B&B Smokehouse at 2619 Pleasanton Road. It’s a cola with a citrus touch made from products sourced from the Rio Grande Valley as well as Mexican pure cane sugar.
“It’s almost like saying South Texans are Texans, too,” Anguiano said. “When people think about Texas, they think of Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, but what about McAllen, Brownsville, Laredo. That’s Texas, too. We’re kind of putting a product out there that is South Texas-driven with TexaCola.”
The founders met several years ago at an event at a hotel in Brooks where Spickler serves as bee keeper. They struck up a conversation and learned they were already thinking along the same lines.
Anguiano had the idea for Southside Craft Soda and Spickler had noticed an empty space in the market crying out for a nonalcoholic local craft beverage. He was thinking of creating a hoppy sparkling water.
Spickler had experience making fruit sodas for a brewpub he opened in Maine after culinary school. They were fast friends eager to get their project started.
“There is a lot of interest right now in something nonalcoholic,” Spickler said. “They want to be drinking something interesting and complex, but they don’t necessarily want to be drinking alcohol during the day.”
They made the first few versions of a citrus cola in spring 2018 and began testing it and getting the Southside Craft Soda name out there at events around San Antonio – usually just bringing a keg and tasting cups in a grassroots marketing effort.
Anguiano did a lot of research on the market. It was nothing new to him. He has more than a decade of experience in advertising and marketing in addition to work he has done in the community on the City’s arts board, Zoning Commission, and the board of directors of Port San Antonio.
What started as a two-man team has grown to a six-person operation that includes Chief Operating Officer Rob Rodriguez, Chief Financial Officer Paul Randles, marketing director Sergio Trujillo, and legal counsel Kelli Cubeta.
Now they’re exploring the idea of opening a flavor house on the South Side soon. Their goal once was just to perfect their products and get them out in the community. The vision continues to grow.
“Being San Antonio’s No. 1 soda company is probably the first goal,” Anguiano said. “The city itself has about 20-something-odd million visitors a year and our culinary scene continues to grow and expand. So I think there is a heck of a market just here locally. I think the state would be a secondary and next we have a brand name, Southside, that can resonate in other markets, right?”
Spickler said it took at least 20 batches before he was happy with the flavor he created with TexaCola. Getting it just right came down to tweaking the amounts of citrus and honey. He usually made enough for four or five kegs at a time at first. Now, he makes 124 at a time, which is about 19,000 bottles or nearly 2,000 gallons. It sounds like a lot, but it’s considered small-batch in the industry.
Anguiano said a four-pack of TexaCola sells for $5.54.
After launching TexaCola and Hometown Honey, their attention will turn to new flavors or maybe seasonal sodas, taking advantage of things like access to strawberries from Poteet or maybe grapefruit.
Researchers have said in numerous studies over the years that frequent soft drink consumption is bad for health. Anguiano said there is a big difference between Southside Craft Soda’s natural ingredients and the mass-produced beverages offered by large corporations.
“We’re selling a pie, you know? I don’t want you to eat the whole pie,” Anguiano said. “This is a treat. Eat one slice and then be done with it. The talk should be about enjoying what you’re putting in your body and thinking about it.”
Perhaps the biggest development for Southside Craft Soda to date is a recent agreement with Hops and Vines Distributing. Hops and Vines is a statewide wholesaler and distributor allowing Southside Craft Soda to reach a much larger market beyond San Antonio. Anguiano described the partnership as “like landing a record deal.”
Tristan Maldonado, CEO and founder of Hops and Vines, said there hasn’t been a craft soda made in San Antonio in more than 50 years. He said working with Southside Craft Soda felt right because the companies have similar philosophies and challenges. Both are committed to San Antonio and fighting much larger competitors. Maldonado called it a “match made in heaven.”
“We’re always going to support local, first and foremost,” Maldonado said. “When we got approached with the opportunity to represent a great local company with a unique item, that box was checked. The chance to work with good people – that box was checked. It’s a product made in San Antonio with local ingredients and a focus on South Texas; that box was checked.”
Hops and Vines accounts for about 80 percent of Southside Craft Soda sales, allowing the founders to focus on what they do best: creating new products and marketing them.
Maldonado said Southside Craft Soda products have been received well in the marketplace, with some retailers already asking when new flavors will be added.
“I think the key here is elevating the experience,” Anguiano said. “… We’re not going to be the cheapest and we’re not going to be the most expensive, but it really gives you pause – and that’s what I love about this whole process – is we get people to pause and think about the ingredients. You’re getting a real craft soda experience.”