American Faces No. 92
On this chilly mid-winter day Shawn is like a kid in a candy store, almost literally.
Admittedly, most of his American Faces story shoots are like that. Any time he’s with new people and in new places, he gets a little giddy. Call it a creative adrenaline rush. But this was different. We’re at the Northern Soda Company in New Brighton, Minnesota, and Shawn is bellied up to the bar in their newly-christened soda fountain tap room, shot glass in hand, doing tasting flights of craft root beer and soda. He’s a big kid in soda fountain heaven.
We’re visiting Northern Soda Company Co-CEO and co-founder, Davod Zarghami, for a personal tour of their brand new 10,000-square-foot canning facility and Minnesota’s very first soda tap room, and as Shawn freely admits, to conduct research in his lifelong pursuit of the perfect root beer.
Did he find it? More on that in a bit.
As with all his American Faces stories, Shawn is drawn to “makers” of all kinds, whether solo artists, entrepreneurs and start-ups, or generations-old legacy business owners. He has a fascination for what inspires people, and a passionate curiosity to get under the surface to see what makes each person unique. In Shawn’s world, everyone has a story worth telling.
Of course, if that story involves making craft sodas and rootbeer, that’s a huge bonus. Seeing behind the scenes at Northern Soda Company, and talking with Davod, was a particular treat.
The people behind Northern Soda Company, and the story of how it all started, is not unlike their line of quirky flavors – delightfully unexpected, and a little unorthodox.
It began with a band of friends, all teachers and educators, who thought it would be fun to make their own soda. Davod, with his Co-CEO, Jesse Hopkins, and a few other friends began mixing their own pop flavors. They shared with friends, who wanted more. And those friends shared it with more friends. The group (not a business major among them) said, “Hey, we should start a soda company.” And the rest, as they might say, is Minne-soda history.
Northern Soda Company launched about five years ago in Arden Hills, offering only curbside pick-up and delivery. According to Davod, their first sale was just one case of soda, of assorted flavors, that he hand-carried to a local neighborhood chocolate shop owner who agreed to give them a try. With persistent hustle, a devotion to a singular vision, and a growing group of passionate fans asking for more products in more places, Northern Soda’s star rose rapidly. They quickly outgrew their Arden Hills space as they expanded their product line and their rapidly-growing sales demanded more production capacity and warehouse space. Northern Soda now distributes their craft sodas throughout the North Star state, upper Midwest and to a growing fan base in places far beyond the Northland.
Davod and Jesse describe their formula for success as creating “soda the way it used to be,” with simple ingredients, natural (mostly cane, sometimes beet) sugar, and offering nostalgic artisan flavors reminiscent of those found in the soda shops of the 1950’s.
Northern Soda Company’s most popular flavors are the traditional favorites: root beer, cream soda, and black cherry. Their regular lineup includes 15-20 flavors, including Minnesota monikers like Sunday Purple, Pontoon Punch, Minnesota Apple and Due North (Lemon Lime). The offering varies throughout the year, with seasonal specials like the new Cranberry Lime Pop-Tail, canned especially for this year’s Saint Paul Winter Carnival.
In case you’re still wondering, Shawn’s favorite sample from the (many) flights he tasted was the traditional cane sugar root beer. But the bigger question: How did Northern Soda Company’s offering rank in Shawn’s vast root beer experience?
He said it was “honestly, the very best” he’s tasted (so far), and that’s saying a lot.
With all the American Faces stories, we like to offer a few words of encouragement – from our perspective, and from our new friends.’
We asked Davod what he would say to other aspiring entrepreneurs with a sweet idea.
Davod says, “Just do it. But know you’re in for a fight. It takes more than a vision. It takes passion and a willingness to drive hard.” Davod also says family support is crucial. “Don’t think you can bootstrap it by yourself,” he says, “Know that you’ll need the support of friends and family – everyone has to be all-in.”
Finally, a word from Shawn: Visit the Northern Soda Company tap room soon, bring a friend, or your whole family. Say hi to Davod and Jesse. And be sure to try the root beer.
Photos by: Nielsen Studios
Story and BTS photos by: Scott Whitman