The best thing about Galco's is that getting home and opening up the sodas is not anti-climatic. In case you've been under a rock (which is often a good place to be when it's raining Tiger Woods stories), you should know about Galco's Soda Pop Shop. I was made aware a couple weeks ago, and now I hear there's an NPR story. Today there was even a book signing. First to the video that hipped me to the deal.
When I found that this guy and his joint were just 15 miles away from my house, I knew that I'd be making several trips. And so this weekend was the first.
First thing was that I had to herd the cats of my family which is getting more difficult to do by the day. We managed to get everyone together by 11am from sleepovers and sleepins and take the Pasadena freeway up to North Figeuroa into Highland Park. We made a quick stop at BofA and then turned left on York and headed to Avenue 54. That's because the Estrella Taco Truck is there. Yes a taco truck. The al pastor burrito (no guac, no sour cream) is a perfect balance. Just spicy meat held together in a perfect tortilla with the right amount of sauce, onion, & cilantro. You know there are still Americans who don't know what cilantro is. I know, hard to believe.
We wheeled back down York and pulled into Galco's. A bunch of dudes were hanging out in front eating and drinking sodas. In a glance I could tell they were either YouTubers or Oxy students. But it was the second incongruous group I'd seen in this East LA style 'hood. My family of course was the first.
Inside it is as bright and cheerful as in the color drenched video. Except the florescents weren't giving the color balance you saw in the video. But the excitement of seeing candy and soda from long lost memory was just as extraordinary as you would expect. The proprietor was there, and a bunch of employees were busily restocking shelves and pointing folks in interesting directions. The photographer took a shine to my kids. I grabbed a cart and went at it.
It took me a while to figure out what Nese, the owner, was on about when he talked about CRV and the monopolization of recycling by Coke and Pepsi. But by the time I got in the store I had figured it out. As soon as I saw a bottle of BubbleUp I remembered that I used to put them in my wagon and return them to Boys Market on Crenshaw for a few pennies each. It was the market that paid me the money and got me back in the store. They sent the bottles back to the bottler who washed them and reused them. Well the accounting geniuses at Coke and Pepsi realized that if they could get a good enough deal on recycled glass, it would be cheaper for them to make new bottles than to wash and relabel the old ones, especially as you realize many of the bottles were painted. So they argued for the support of CRV and that took their rewashing factories out of the supply chain. And it took the markets out too. So now the states run the CRV programs and they get the kickback from the bottlers, not the markets. You can argue that it's just a penny or two per bottle, but those pennies add up, and none of them go to the Galcos of the world.
But going to Galco's is not about sour grapes. It's about Nugrape and Big Red and Faygo Rock&Rye and Kackapoo Joy Juice and all those old brands you thought were gone. It's about crazy flavors you never knew existed much less made into a soda. I can't even imagine a Dandelion and Burdock soda, but there it is right at eye level on the shelf.
Moreover Galco's is about experiencing the kind of long tail personal retail that is a very rare thing in this country. There's a man running that store who reminds us that quality doesn't necessarily mean rarified and overpriced. Some of my favorite business success stories are about the man who didn't do a lot of market research or focus groups on a product, but instead assumed that the customer shared his own passion. Those guys don't often make the big time, but they make the 99th percentile because they can control the details.
You wouldn't think that there are details in soda, but there absolutely are. In fact, soda is exciting again. We've all been dumbed down with the mass market sodas, because as soon as you open the top on one of these rare brands you smell it. When is the last time you appreciated the smell of a soda before you chugged it down? I'm telling you it's a new experience. Not just shopping for the stuff, which is a delight in itself, but actually drinking it down.
My new favorite soda is Curiosity Cola. It's an astonishing drink. If you've ever had an IBC or a Jones, then you know how different a good soda can be from the mainstream brands. In my book the Fentimans are up a significant notch from them. I tried it with some Captain Morgan and it's an entirely new drink. Can't wait to taste it with Jack. Next I am dying to make a cucumber martini.
Now it's just like me to become a soda snob, but instead I have this wave of sadness in the realization of how we've all been ripped off and deprived of one of life's simple pleasures. It ought to be a no-brainer to go to the store and marvel at what kinds of goods are available after the culmination of thousands of years of beverage making. But we've just been swallowing swill. Galco's selection (and they're supplying restaurants too) is waking us up to something marvelous and oh so sweet. Tell your favorite bartender to get on board.
It doesn't stop there. Galco's has old school candy. Yes including Nikl Nip wax lips and candy cigarettes. They have Flicks, Chick O Stick and Fruit Stripe gum. They've got C Howard's Violets, Razzles, Pop Rocks and Giant Pixy Stix. It's like going back in time.
I expect Galco's to get slashdotted, and that's cool. He's not great because he's small, but because he's great.