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Just What IS Real Soda anyways?

“Take a look at this! This whole empire started in a backpack!”… that’s what an old high school friend of Real Soda’s founder Danny Ginsburg said when he visited the central warehouse with his wife and baby recently. And in fact... what is today perhaps unquestionably the most substantial purveyor of glass-bottled soft drinks in the USA had its origins with a bottle cap collection, a dream, and a desire and drive of immense proportions which all synergized to create the magic which is REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES.

"Real Soda" is essentially a name that was coined by original partakers. The concept of Real Soda was conceived in the 1980's by Ginsburg who had been collecting bottle caps since he was four years old and who could not accept the invasion of cans and plastic to the detriment of all of the great sodas that had once been available.

While in the 70's Danny was a kid having to hunt around for whatever stores still sold bottles. Before REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES was a business entity, the backpack was in fact the means of delivery when Danny was a high school student and had started buying sodas in glass returnable bottles in other cities so that he could keep adding to his bottle cap collection at a time when Los Angeles bottlers had discontinued virtually everything in glass. He started by bringing a few bottles along for his own consumption and soon had an entourage of friends and acquaintances who asked him to provide them with these “old-fashioned” sodas to the extent that the backpack would often be filled with a dozen 16oz returnable bottles and the books had to be carried by hand!

By his 16th birthday in 1980 he got his driver's license just in time to buy the last four cases of Diet Pepsi being sold in L.A. Very quickly he started driving to other cities where bottled sodas were still available, and he would bring them back to his house for his personal consumption. Because he desired at least 100 bottle caps from each design, he found himself buying more than he could drink and at the same time, people would notice him drinking from bottles and would ask him if he could get them their favorite brands, which he was only too happy to do.

The procurement of interesting sodas was always in the forefront and the garage at his home served as a “warehouse” of sorts. Danny was often hired by people at school and later at the university to serve beverages at functions and to provide them to carnivals; the caveat was always that the empty bottles and bottle caps had to go back with Danny. Initially people thought all of this to be an odd and quirky thing and in fact many of the people who would ask for the beverages outright admitted that they were doing it “to be nice to Danny”.

Soon these folks became a sort of "cargo cult" as virtually every weekend became a soda-shopping trip. After graduating from high school and working for a property management company, Danny would bring bottles of soda to work and one time a diabetic pool contractor noticed Danny drinking a Diet Coke in the contour glass returnable bottle. "Where did you get that; I've only seen it like that on TV", exclaimed the contractor to which Danny mentioned some cities about 400 miles away. Needless to say, this guy and his friends started giving Danny lists of sodas to procure and as this contractor was one of those people who always had a bunch of people hanging around his residence, would always exclaim upon seeing me arrive at the door "Hey Look! It's Real Soda, in Real Bottles!!". So when it was time to get a business license, the idea was... why not call it what it is?

Toward the end of Danny’s university days there were businesses asking him for products and it became evident that this was getting too big not to be an actual business entity; it had grown way beyond people just ordering as a favor to Danny. Therefore, in 1991 Danny got a business license from the City Of Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The corporation Real Soda In Real Bottles, Ltd. was formed the following year.

We all hear about businesses that originated in a Volkswagen Van, and REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES is no exception. The original delivery vehicle was exactly that; a Volkswagen Van with a Lenin-head gearshift. There were days that Danny managed to cram 120 cases into that van and get the drinks to the customers on time. Soon the business expanded to where it was necessary to get a larger van, and using the garage at home (and the living room and hallways) as a warehouse was just no longer feasible. So a garage was rented behind a wax company in Long Beach, CA where a 1953 manual-shift Towmotor forklift was part of the deal. Less than a year following this, REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES had added on a bunch of brands from companies who had not formerly had a distributor in Los Angeles and it was necessary to move to a 6400sqft warehouse in Torrance, CA in 1993. By then REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES was in all of the hip coffeehouses in L.A. and delivering to movie studios and the homes of Hollywood actors; also small soda sections were starting to pop up in specialty grocery stores under the care of REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES.

When the Torrance warehouse was first set up, the complete inventory was able to be stored against the back and side walls. Having the extra space was just another excuse to now stock more variety and Danny used his contacts from his days of sending letters to bottling companies all over the world to obtain bottle caps to see which of these companies were still making interesting beverages. He set up a truck to go across country and get an initial batch from North and South Carolina, Kentucky, and Louisiana; these sodas really took off and started finally forming what was a unique collection of drinks that were not easily procured by the competition. As much fun as soda has always been to Danny, the realities of the beverage industry: cutthroat competition and using the “stepvan distributors” as stepping-stones was (and still is) rampant. Perhaps the saving grace for REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES was that the logistics of procuring these obscure brands were complex and the typical distributors of soft drinks were heretofore the major “big Three” (Coke/Pepsi/7up) for the common brands and beer, wine, and foodservice distributors for the sparse variety of specialty beverages available at that time. None of the competition was very knowledgeable about most of the beverages offered by REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES, and they were even less enthusiastic. Their chuckling at what Real Soda was doing in the marketplace actually kept them out of the way in the case of genuine specialty drinks and independent retailers’ disdain for the establishment in the beverage industry coupled with their excitement over the aesthetics and quality of REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES were the synergy that enabled Real Soda to build its foundation. The workload became so intense that Danny could no longer do it on his own and thus a recommendation of a friend produced the appearance of John the Driver Emeritus, now a Real Soda Icon; certainly a chauffeur par excellence and loved by Real Soda’s diverse L.A. clientele.

Once REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES was going strong in Los Angeles, it was no longer necessary for Danny to “cold call” potential customers. The word-of-mouth referrals were keeping the growth between 25% and 70% per year, so Real Soda’s main focus was to expand its offerings and to get all of the things that Danny knew of but did not have yet. Danny’s time was best spent dealing with all of the logistics while still providing attentive service to the existing clientele and the referrals and word-of-mouth business. Because REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES had no official salesman, people would often see bottled products and call the phone numbers on the bottles to find out who all of the distributors were so they could order these drinks for their place. Usually all of these calls led them straight to REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES and when they heard the name, they’d place their initial order right over the phone. Among the people calling to get started were people in other cities and sometimes in other states. Initially Danny would load up the van and drive these orders out to the “out-of-towners” especially if there was something that could be procured for the return trip to L.A. Some people ordered mixed pallets which had to be released to trucking companies and shipped. But what finally occurred is that people from neighboring cities started to appear, desirous of being “sub-distributors” of Real Soda’s products in their own locales. Hence the first “sodaphiliates” appeared on the scene, in Orange County, California; and Seattle, Washington. Gradually this has grown to 16 sodaphiliates as well as a large number of “sub-distributors” and other entities primarily in the West.

The expansion into other cities increased the volume of REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES so much that it was necessary to move into a much bigger warehouse; now the Real Soda warehouses consist of 10 times the space once in that “big” initial one. In addition to having the most impressive amalgamation of specialty glass-bottled sodas anywhere, REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES started manufacturing its own beverages along with beverages under license. The need to start this was mainly derived from the lack of availability of some of the beverages Danny felt REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES needed to have; the manufacturers of these beverages often were shipping the concentrate to foreign countries but had lost their business in the USA due to consolidation of the major brand owners and bottlers. Conveniently, this gave birth to the opportunity for Danny to “experiment” with some of the beverages he had always dreamed of making. Perhaps the most successful of these “experiments” is the LENINADE whose label he had drawn initially as a joke in his Russian language class in 1987.

It is often said that imitation is the highest form of flattery and in fact REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES has its share of such flattery. People who dabble with some of the products sold by but not exclusive to REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES have claimed to be the originators of this concept, but in fact it would be hard for them to provide anything comparable to the photographs and newspaper articles which chronicle REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES’ origins since the early 1980’s. Nowadays, REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES’ specialty beverage sections are becoming more a part of the mainstream, and this is what was Danny’s dream in the beginning; a mission statement even if not initially stated – that Americans should be able to go to any supermarket, corner store, or other place that sells soda and be able to find there, a wide variety of delicious beverages in glass bottles. This is what REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES is providing for America and whenever there is no “sodaphiliate” or “sub-distributor” in an area, a store that wants to stock up on great products and make delicious beverages in glass bottles available to their clientele can have us ship them what they need. While some glass-bottled sodas are available in many parts of the countries nowadays (thankfully!), there is still no match for the variety of aesthetic and delicious sodas that REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES has to offer; and the knowledge, enthusiasm, and genuine history that blend so well to make REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES so special is surely one of the unique wonders that makes life so much better.

One of the things beyond the great selection of wonderful beverages that has enabled REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES’ success is that the whole concept of offering this great variety to the marketplace has been built with the understanding that everyone from manufacturer to distributor to retailer deserves to earn a margin which is sufficient for them to be rewarded for their efforts. While this may seem like an excuse to justify higher prices, consider this: Because the margins do not choke people into considering lessened quality and aesthetics as is the case with so much of the rest of the beverage industry, the financial reward for providing this wonder of effervescence excellence to the otherwise deprived populace is such that it fuels the enthusiasm which drives all involved to build and expand their offerings of delicious beverages in glass bottles. And certainly the price structure of these beverages is superseded by the quality and the pleasure that these beverages bring to people because it is only in this manner that the demand has been such that REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES could grow as it has and spread as it has and continue to do so. In other words, REAL SODA IN REAL BOTTLES represents a variety of beverages which are in a sense a “bargain” in that they are so much better than those that cost less that they are well worth any extra expenditure. The proliferation of overpriced thimble-can energy drinks and pricy plastic teas only reveals the true value of a Real Soda in a Real Bottle!

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