Dublin: 120 Years of Bottling America’s First Major Soft Drink

modern logoSome months ago while passing through Waco, Texas on a business related road trip, I couldn’t help but think about some of the historic events surrounding this small city named after Native Americans who once lived in the area. One of the most significant of these events is that Waco is the birth place of America’s third most popular soft drink, Dr Pepper, and home of the Dr Pepper Museum, housed in the 1906 Artesian Mfg. and Bottling Company building.

morrison drug storeIn 1885, a young Englishman named Charles Alderton was a pharmacist at Wade Morrison’s Old Country Drug Store, located on the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Austin Avenue in Waco. When not filling prescriptions, Alderton served soda fountain soft drinks to Morrison’s customers. Listening to his patrons express their boredom with the fruit flavors available at that time, him was inspired to create something new and different. After considerable experimentation Alderton finally came up with a flavor he was happy with.

To test his new drink, Alderton first offered it to Morrison and a few select patrons, all of whom decreed it a success. Word quickly spread of Morrison’s new fountain drink and because it had no name, customers began asking for a “Waco.” And although Alderton created the beverage, it was Morrison who finally named it Dr. Pepper (the period was dropped in 1950) in tribute to Charles Pepper, the Virginia physician who gave him his first job, and whose daughter he loved.

Soon demand for Dr Pepper around the Waco area became such that other drug stores and soda fountains began asking to buy the syrup from Alderton and Morrison. Eventually sales became greater than the small pharmacy’s production capabilities and a search began for a facility in which to manufacture the syrup.

dr pepper coRobert Lazenby, a Waco beverage chemist and owner of The Circle “A” Ginger Ale Company, liked Morrison’s new drink and offered to produce Dr Pepper syrup in his bottling plant. Then in 1886, Morrison and Lazenby decided to formalize their partnership and formed The Artesian Mfg. and Bottling Works to produce Dr Pepper in the Codd internal ball stoppered bottles.

History tells us that Alderton, the beverage’s inventor, had no interest in further development of the soft drink and gave Morrison the rights to his formula, suggesting Morrison and Lazenby proceed without him. Alderton happily continued his work in the pharmacy until well into his eighties.

In 1981, Texas businessman Sam Houston Prim tasted Morrison’s new fountain drink and right away he knew he wanted to sell it through his company, Dublin Bottling Works, some 80 miles west of Waco. An agreement was worked out between he and Mr. Lazenby and Dublin became America’s first Dr Pepper bottling plant. Then in 1925, because Prim was the first ever to dublin bottling worksbottle Dr Pepper, he was offered the company’s first bottling franchise. In response to the question of what area he wanted, Prim drew a map on the back of the franchise agreement–Tolar to the northeast, Carbon to the west, Comanche to the south, Lamkin and Fairy to the east and Iredell to the southeast–the same 44 mile radius territory from the Dublin plant as he had picked in 1981.

Mr. Prim’s daughter, Grace Prim Lyon, plant heir and operator until her death in June of 1991, later remarked that her father could have taken the Dallas-Fort Worth area or even the entire state had he desired but was satisfied with the arrangement he had originally made with Lazenby.

The popularity of Dr Pepper continued to grow as a regional soft drink beverage, but it was at the 1904 World’s State Fair in St. Louis where Lazenby and his son-in-law J. B. O’Hara introduced it to almost 20 million people that it received national recognition. This is the same exposition where hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream cones were first introduced.

Grace Lyons died on the Dublin plant’s 100th anniversary. Having no children or other heirs, she willed the plant to Bill Kloster, who had started working at the plant at age 14 as a bottle sorter for ten-cents an hour. Bill had become plant manager in 1946 after its founder died and Grace inherited it.

early 1900s adAs the owner, Bill continued to emphasize the same values of service and quality he had learned from the bottler’s founder Sam Houston Prim. He was also committed to continue producing the distinctive taste that would come to be known as “Dublin Dr Pepper,” a taste he was convinced could only be achieved by using cane sugar in its formulation.

In 1982 when most U.S. soft drinks, including Dr Pepper, began using high fructose corn syrup due to large price increases and import quotas of sugar, Kloster refused to follow suit. For dublin dr pepper 2years the small independent bottling plant in Dublin continued to use the original formula given to Sam Houston Prim which called for Imperial Pure Cane Sugar–the only Texas Dr Pepper bottler to do so. As a result this small bottler with its limited distribution area drew as many as 80,000 visitors annually from around the world, and was continuously among the top ten sales producers in the country.

In June of 2011, after an unsuccessful attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Dublin Dr Pepper with their own “Heritage” Dr Pepper made with “Real Sugar” (beet sugar instead of Imperial Pure Cane), the Dr Pepper Snapple Group sued the Dublin bottler for trademark dilution and stealing sales from other Dr Pepper bottlers. The suit demanded that the bottler remove the name “Dublin” from its labels and that it stop selling the soda beyond the 44-mile range around Dublin. In January of 2012, Dr Pepper’s parent company acquired dublin historic markerthe rights to the six-county territory that had been Dublin Dr Pepper’s franchise, and the bottler stopped producing the soda it had bottled for 120 continuous years.

Today, the historic Dublin Bottling Works has reinvented itself without Dr Pepper. Still in operation and managed by the Kloster family, it produces a line of retro soft drinks including Dublin Root Beer, Dublin Cola, Dublin Ginger Ale, and more. And, all of Dublin’s retro soft drinks are made the “right way”–with Imperial Pure Cane sugar.

Try Em: Dublin Dr Pepper Braised Short Ribs, Dr Pepper BBQ Sauce, Spicy Dr Pepper Baby Back Ribs, Dr Pepper Bundt Cake

Southern Fried Chicken: America’s Ultimate Comfort Food. And Mine.

Log_House_Restaurant_2

As I’ve mentioned before, ours was a family of modest means. But my father worked hard to see that we were able to afford some of life’s nicer things. An occasional dinner at the “Log House” after Sunday’s church service was one of the more pleasurable of them. And one of my life experiences I will likely never forget.

The Log House, as the name implies, was a real log cabin in which a popular restaurant was housed. It was unique, affordable, and located right on the way home from our house of worship. But best of all, this restaurant specialized in southern fried chicken–one of my family’s favorite meals.

My mother always ordered first. Two pieces of dark meat for herself; a drumstick for my sister; a chicken breast for me. Then my father would order the three-piece white chicken dinner for himself–“extra crispy”, with mashed potatoes and green beans. Afterwards, looking our server in the eye while putting togetherfried chicken dinner the thumbs and index fingers of both hands to demonstrate the size, he would add “with a little bowl of cream gravy.” After the waitress left to fetch our meal, my mom would exclaim, “Albert, why do you always do that? You know it comes with a side of gravy.” And with a slight look of exasperation on his face he would calmly answer, “I know, I know. I just don’t want her to forget.”

Now for those of you not familiar with southern fried chicken (and I’m not sure who that could possibly be) the following paragraphs will attempt to clarify what it is, its origin, and perhaps a few other interesting facts.

fried-chicken-basket

Simply put, southern fried chicken consists of a young hen that has been cut up–usually into eight pieces–dredged first in buttermilk, then in well seasoned flour, and fried in lard (or some other fat) in a cast iron skillet, rendering the exterior with a crispy outer shell that keeps the meat juicy and tender. And while this may sound straightforward enough, making great fried chicken is an art mastered by only a few, and then only after months, sometimes years, of practice, trial, and error. It is also worth noting that the term “southern fried” is a relatively recent term, not appearing in print until 1925.

While fried chicken was not particularly popular in the northern United States until well into the nineteenth century, it is certainly a traditional southern meal and among the region’s most well known exports. But the dish is not indigenous to the South. Actually, most food historians credit Scottish immigrants–who preferred frying their chicken over baking or boiling, as did other Europeans–with first introducing the dish to Southern colonies as they migrated here in the mid eighteenth century. And while the Scots may have brought fried chicken to America, it was West Africans, brought here as slaves, that helped make it a southern staple.

Fried chicken is known to have been a common part of many West African cuisines. As the slave trade led to Africans being brought to work on southern plantations, those whose job it was to cook for the owners brought with them spices and seasonings that greatly enhanced the flavors of Scottish fried chicken recipes. Fried chicken was also well suited for plantation life, as it provided cheap but nutritious sustenance for both owners and slaves alike. And chickens were about the only meat African American slaves were allowed to raise.

Gordonville VA chicken vendors

As the American Civil War began to wind down and it became necessary for former slaves to create new lives for themselves, some turned to trades learned during slavery. But one group of African American women from the town of Gordonsville, Virginia turned to fried chicken as a means of providing a living for themselves and their families, earning the name “Chicken Vendors” along the way.

It seems Gordonsville was an important train junction for the Confederacy and, as such, highly defended during the Civil War, surviving virtually unscathed. When the war ended in 1865, passenger service was restored quickly. But trains at that time had no dining cars, and passengers had no choice but to eat at trackside establishments. The Chicken Vendors greeted the waiting rail cars with trays of fried chicken and baskets of rolls, selling wares to passengers through open windows–legs and breast was fifteen cents; backs and wings, five and ten cents. This practice continued until the mid-1900s when health regulations forced it to stop.

By the end of the nineteenth century the popularity of fried chicken in the South had grown to become the region’s top choice for Sunday dinner and special occasions among both blacks and whites. Today fried chicken, like America itself, has taken on a new look. Modern, forward thinking chefs craft versions of this classic dish never before fathomed and certainly a far cry from Southern Fried Chicken 002that first recipe published by Mary Randolph in her 1824 cookbook The Virginia House-Wife. And although good fried chicken can be found in just about every state in the country, great fried chicken can, at least in my mind, only be found in the South. Places like Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, or the Busy Bee Cafe in Atlanta.

So while the Log House Restaurant burned down many years ago, those childhood after-church Sunday dinners and my father’s “little bowl of cream gravy” will forever be etched in my memory. And the taste of fried chicken forever on my tongue.

Try Em: Charles’ Country Pan Fried Country, Harlem, NY; Mama Dip’s Kitchen, Chapel Hill, NC; Coop’s Place, New Orleans, LA; Harold’s Chicken Shack, Chicago, IL; Stroud’s, Kansas City, MO; Arnold’s Country Chicken, Nashville, TN; Chicken Dinner House, Roanoke, TX

Make Em: Grandma’s Fried Chicken, Paula’s Spicy Southern Fried Chicken