HCC helps Waynesville Soda Jerks create beverages with a purpose

By Haywood Community College | Jun 30, 2014
Courtesy of: Haywood Community College Small Business Center Soda Jerk, Megan Brown serves up handcrafted artisan sodas at the Historic Farmers Market

What happens when budding entrepreneurs combine a love for carbonated beverages with natural homemade syrups? A Haywood County based artisan beverage company, of course.

Established in 2013, Waynesville Soda Jerks is owned by operating partners Megan Brown and Chris Allen. Known as "the Jerks" — from the traditional moniker of those who operated soda fountains familiarly known as "Soda Jerks" — Brown and Allen are not only budding entrepreneurs, but also students of Haywood Community College.

"Due in part to the design of the HCC entrepreneurship curriculum and the assistance provided by the Small Business Center (SBC), we have had the opportunity to analyze the business piece by piece," said Allen. "The SBC provided a place to hash out ideas and seek advice in a judgment free and confidential environment. Our situation is unique in that we are applying the knowledge on the fly. This has allowed our business to develop at a much more accelerated, and planned, pace."

Grasping a sense of nostalgia, balanced with a sense of humor, Waynesville Soda Jerks is the nexus of traditional charm and modern youthfulness.

Brown and Allen can often be found juicing, cooking and concocting the sweet syrups that have quickly made them industry leaders in their craft. The Jerks strive to handcraft artisan beverages not only of the highest quality, but also with a purpose through the utilization of local produce and an all-natural approach.

"We bring the mindset of the local food movement to the beverage market by reconnecting consumers to the source and spotlighting the quality and importance of the local agricultural economy," said Brown.  "To meet these goals, we highlight fresh, seasonal offerings sourced as directly and sustainably as possible, providing our customers with a distinct clarity of ingredients."

These efforts have awarded certification from local agriculture advocacy groups, Buy Haywood and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Headquartered in the HCC Student Business Incubator, located in the Center for New and Expanding Business, an entity of Smoky Mountain Development Corporation, the Waynesville Soda Jerks are utilizing the SBC program designed by the HCC Department of Business and Entrepreneurship. The program provides incubator opportunities for HCC students looking to launch business ventures in Haywood County.

"Signing a lease for the HCC Student Business Center was a major development for the short- and long-term success of our business," said Brown. "It affords us the space and opportunity for growth while the business is still learning to walk by alleviating the usually high cost of rent for a production, bottling and office facility. Based on storage capacity alone, we would have hit a ceiling months ago without the facilities to house larger, commercial refrigeration and freezer storage."

During their first year of operations, Waynesville Soda Jerks successfully implemented a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign that raised over $7,500 with 59 backers. The funding generated from the campaign allowed for growth and development, moving from a farmer’s market-based business to being poised to become a full-scale beverage manufacturer with bottling and distribution capabilities.

"At the beginning, we only envisioned Waynesville Soda Jerks being a very localized, more service-oriented business. We are leaps and bounds ahead of even our longest term goals as defined a year ago," said Allen. "After bringing our products to the market, we quickly realized the true potential of the business lies in the manufacturing and distribution aspects. This has dictated our pace and path over the last few months as we move into our commercial space and progress toward bringing our products to the wholesale and retail markets."

Waynesville Soda Jerks products can be found seasonally at the Haywood Historic Farmer’s Market and year-round at the Strand @ 38 Main in Waynesville. The Jerks are also available for private parties, catering events and local festivals. Visit www.waynesvillesodajerks.com or email WaynesvilleSodaJerks@gmail.com for additional information or to book a private party or catering event.

To tap into success for a small business venture, make the most of the resources available at HCC's Small Business Center. The center provides budding entrepreneurs with the knowledge and resources needed to make informed decisions concerning their business ventures through three avenues. An extensive business resource library, free business seminars, and confidential one-on-one counseling services. The SBC is located on HCC's main campus in the Learning Resource Center. For more information about HCC's Small Business Center, call 627-4512 or visit sbc.haywood.edu.