Just in time for pumpkin season, Riley Soda Parlor (inside Nona’s Downtown Market, 126 W 2nd) launched a spicy pumpkin soda at their ribbon cutting with the Chamber of Commerce yesterday.
“We try to keep everything the old fashioned way, says Riley Soda founder Steven Riley. “Our sodas are made in bottles the way they were back in the ‘50s.”
Anyone who remembers drug store soda shops knows exactly what Steven is talking about. “We’re trying to bring that same experience back,” Riley said.
To do so, Riley Soda has positioned themselves inside Nona’s Downtown Market with a countertop just inside the main door, in full view of Second Street foot traffic. “Our goal is to put out a good product with an experience that someone remembers,” Riley explained.
Which is why Riley wanted to open a soda parlor in addition to selling bottled soda. When a soda is poured off the tap, it ‘heads out’ with about an inch of foam on the top that can actually be scooped out. It has a flavor to it.
That’s something you can’t get in a bottle.
But even Riley’s bottled sodas have their own character. The cream soda, for example, is made with real cream, so when a bottle sets on the shelf for a while, the cream separates to the top, which means you get to give it a little shake before you open it. “A kid will remember getting to shake the bottle before they drink it,” Riley said. “Or with our blackberry soda, when you open the bottle, it will foam out a little,” he continued. “That’s part of the experience. Part of the fun.”
For Steven, Nona’s already felt like familiar territory. Nona’s was the first place to sell Riley’s Soda when it was created.
The first test run was 14 bottles that were given away to friends and family this past summer. Everybody loved them! Based on that initial sample, the first batch Steven made was 24 bottles of blackberry soda.
It was love at first taste for Maria Kelly, owner of Nona’s, who agreed to sell Riley’s Soda in her market. The first 24 bottles sold out the first day. The next day, Steven brought in more bottles and they sold out again. Next day, same thing.
Since then, life has been a whirlwind of activity for Steven. Riley Soda can now be found in a growing list of places around town. It’s even on tap at Lure.
Riley says he was influenced by the drive to leave a legacy that his son could eventually continue. “That’s why I attached my family name to it,” Riley explained. “I didn’t want my son to have to go through the physical kinds of jobs that I did,” Steven said, referring to his earlier job at a body shop. “I want this to be a heritage thing that I can pass down.”
A self proclaimed “soda fanatic,” it was Steven’s vision from the start to produce soda that is all natural so it’s healthier to consume. “Every bit of water that goes into any of my products is reverse osmosis. It’s the purest water you can get. The sugar is pure cane sugar. It’s as clean as you can get,” Riley explained.
Keeping things local is also a trademark for Riley Soda, which prides itself in being a Kentucky Proud company. Everything that goes into their products, if at all possible, is Kentucky Proud as well.
Along with cream soda, cola and root beer are the usual flavors. It all started with blackberry, though. “I remember picking blackberries as a child and we would sell them by the gallon to get money to go to the drive in movie,” Steven recalled, which made blackberry an obvious choice when choosing the initial flavor. Plus, it was different enough to grab people’s attention.
It worked. It’s still the most requested.
Other flavors are inspired by whatever is in season. For example, the two newest flavors: spicy pumpkin and apple/grapefruit.
Steven’s goal is to be totally set up for Shop Small Saturday, in plenty of time for the Holiday shopping season. “We’re going to keep building a little at a time. The first step will be having the sodas on tap. Next we’ll add syrups, and then floats,” Steven said. He also hopes to have a line of candy so it really looks like a 50s downtown soda fountain.
To see the work in progress, stop by Nona’s Downtown Market at 126 W 2nd St.
*This article appeared in the 4th Quarter issue of GO Business Magazine. Photo by David Grinnell.