Soda shop pops up on historic Route 66

Oklahoma store sells nearly 500 flavors

December 23, 2007|By Joy Tipping | Joy Tipping,The Dallas Morning News

ARCADIA, Okla. -- You can see the big, glowing thing from a couple of miles away on historic Route 66, and as you approach from the east, you wonder what it is: A rocket ship at an amusement park? Surely not out here in the middle of nowhere. A giant, glowing Q-tip, like they used to have at the Johnson & Johnson factories? Nope, wrong shape.

You get closer, and it becomes clear. It's an enormous soda bottle, 66 feet tall (in homage to Route 66), complete with a straw. When the bottle is lighted at night, it changes colors, morphing from soft grape to lemon yellow to cherry red.

If ever there was an instance of advertising matching substance, this is it.

The store behind the bottle, Pops, which opened in August, sells nearly 500 kinds of soda pop, along with soda-fountain-type food, shakes, souvenirs and gasoline. The slogan pretty much says it all: "Food, Fuel & Fizz."

The roadside attraction is 25 minutes northeast of Oklahoma City, near Edmond. The only other things nearby are the Round Barn, another Route 66 landmark, and acres of grazing longhorns. It's worth the trip for the soda and the meals, which feature much tastier fare than typically is found at places where you also buy gas.

The building itself is an ultramodern design with a native Oklahoma red-rock base and steel trusses that resemble enormous tree branches. It was designed by Oklahoma City architect Rand Elliott.

The soda theme extends to the decor. Glass shelves holding about 7,500 bottles -- 143 different flavors -- line the windows for a rainbow effect.

Despite its out-of-the-way location, Pops was an instant hit. About 20 people were waiting in line at 5 a.m. the day it opened, and more than 11,000 bottles of soda were sold the first week, according to Jessica Ockershauser, marketing manager.

The store now sells about 9,000 bottles a week. The restaurant serves about 700 people weekly, she says, and on weekend nights the wait time can be as much as two hours.

A trip here should start with, of course, the soda. In the cold cases, the sodas (as well as nonsodas such as sparkling waters) are alphabetized for easy searching, from Abbondio Rossa to Waialua Vanilla Cream Soda.

Browsing is half the fun, as your eyes light on offbeat names and label art: neon green Kickapoo Joy Juice (a personal favorite), Capt'n Eli's Parrot Punch (tropical-themed label, natch), Orca Cascade raspberry sparkling water (featuring a whale).

Most bottles are of the 12-ounce variety, although some, such as the Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda, presumably for those long night drives, are 10 ounces.

Some of the brands just about dare you to try them, such as Brain Wash ("for a change of mind"), which features a grinning skull and brain on the label and ingredients such as Korean ginseng, skullcap ("mad-dog weed") and something called Brazilian guarana. Oh, and blue dye, which the folks at Pops warn will stain your teeth a lovely azure for about four hours.

If you're a planner, the store's Web site (pops66.com) arranges choices by color. Click on Soda Ranch, then click Pick an Orange, and you'll see about 70 selections, from the expected orange cream and peach-mango varieties to the more offbeat ginseng mandarin or orange green tea.

The store has dozens of diet choices, as well. We grabbed a couple of sugar-free cream sodas for diabetic friends.

As much fun as all that soda is, we also came in hungry.

The dinner menu offers hamburgers and other sandwiches, wraps, soups, salad and entrees, ranging from $2.50 for soup to $15 for a filet mignon with potatoes and veggies.

The restaurant also offers a wine list with choices from a $4 glass of house red to a $65 bottle of champagne.

My husband and I opted for half-pound burgers ($6), which were perfectly charcoal-grilled and had the best buns I've ever tasted.

Pops has become such a success, Ockershauser says, that it's begun programming events such as the recent "Poptoberfest," which featured games for children, a hay maze, face-painting, entertainment and a pumpkin patch.

But, really, it's all about the soda. Just make sure you take a restroom break before hitting the road again.

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