Popping the bubble
Bryan Wilder starts talking about high-fructose corn syrup and doesn’t stop for a good 3 minutes.
He says some stuff about nutrition and chemistry, but the bottom line is this: High-fructose corn syrup just doesn’t taste as good as cane sugar.
It’s cheaper, which is why the big soda companies started using it in the 1980s at the expense of quality, Wilder says.
“I don’t want to go out and compete with Coke or Pepsi,” he says. “I want to go out and do something that they can’t compete with me on.”
Enter Real Sugar Soda. That’s the company Wilder started in 2009. Because of the logo, most people think it’s called Oak Cliff Soda, and that’s fine.
That perception, in fact, is part of the concept: Craft soda made with the best ingredients possible and branded to local markets.
In our case, it’s very local. Real Sugar Soda started in Wilder’s East Kessler kitchen. It later took up in the Design District and recently moved to a much larger space in a West Dallas industrial park.
The company makes about 20 soda flavors, including ones that taste like Coke and Dr Pepper. (Don’t argue unless you’ve tried it.)
“We knew it was time for craft soda, but we knew we couldn’t get into it unless we had something close to Coke and Dr Pepper,” Wilder says.
He gives taste tests to prospective clients to prove the point.
With the new space, the company plans to start bottling its sodas. Currently Real Sugar Soda is only available on fountains at Twisted Root, Baker’s Ribs, Velvet Taco, Off-Site Kitchen and about 75 other North Texas restaurants.
“We’re growing,” Wilder says. “We can grow as fast as we can fund it.”
Wilder is a career beverage man.
He started in the business in the early 1980s with a company that pioneered the disposable bag-in-box setup that every soda fountain uses today. At that time, they were using them for juice machines in nursing homes.
After his company downsized in 2005, Wilder worked for a few other beverage companies before starting his own with cash, no loans or investors.
From 2009-13, he paid another company to manufacture the soda, Wilder says, and “it wasn’t very good.” But about three years ago, he’d raised enough money to take over manufacturing and distribution. The bubbles began to rise from there.
“We’ve found our niche, and we started with nothing,” he says. “We’re growing out of cash flow.”
He hired Eric Lovell, a former co-worker of Wilder who also created his own bottled soda line, Frost Creek.
Along with plans for bottling, expected to start this year, they’d like to move Real Sugar Soda into other markets, with logos branded to the locals. A Boulder Soda in Colorado, for example.
Wilder also plans to offer stock options to employees, which currently number about seven.
Sweet Leaf Tea, which was founded in Beaumont and is now owned by Nestle, followed a trajectory that Wilder wants to emulate. That company started in the late ’90s and grew with its largest client, Whole Foods.
Wilder has landed Velvet Taco, which has locations in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and Chicago. Their parent company already has funding in place to expand even further.
And although it might have a different logo, we know that all of those vendors will be serving Oak Cliff’s own Real Sugar Soda.