The 'jerks' are here to stay
Simple and sweet is the mindset behind Megan Brown and Chris Allen’s entrepreneurial endeavor. The duo — better known around town as the Waynesville Soda Jerks — specializes in handcrafted, locally produced artisan soda, and they have decided to expand their business.
The Soda Jerks idea originated out of Brown and Allen’s love of carbonated beverages, but it took root when they realized they could produce a better syrup than what came with their at-home soda system. They began experimenting and made their first syrup out of three ingredients: cane sugar, water and wild wine berries picked from their own backyard. When family and friends became receptive of what they were producing, the self-dubbed “jerks” — named after the youth who operated soda fountains at drugstores in the 30s and 40s — simply kept going and began marketing their products to the public. They officially launched the business over Memorial Day weekend at Haywood’s Historic Farmers Market in Waynesville, a location that correlates to the couple’s business model.
“The whole point of our business is that we’re local-centric,” said Allen, who, along with Brown, is a Pisgah High School graduate and a student in Haywood Community College’s entrepreneurship program. “We source everything locally, we provide everything locally and we make everything locally — we want to make sure that we’re taking care of the locals first.”
And, because of the jerks’ appreciation for the fresh and natural ingredients that can be found in the Southern Appalachian mountains, they have a strong desire to support the area economy.
“It’s not just about us and this company that we’re building,” Allen continued. “It’s about how our product brings attention to the Haywood County farmers and the food and agriculture here.”
The Waynesville Soda Jerks can be found at The Strand at 38 Main in addition to the Historic Farmers Market, but as their soda’s popularity has continued to grow, they’ve realized it is time to expand the business model.
“People were asking for our bottled sodas, and we had to unfortunately let them down and say, ‘We don’t do bottled sodas yet, we just do the hand-mixed draft sodas,’” Brown said. “So we knew that was a direction we were going to have to move toward very quickly.”
Through the website Kickstarter, the jerks just launched an online campaign that will help them accomplish their goal of outfitting their office with a commercial kitchen suitable for a bottling venture (as a certified Department of Agriculture Home Processor, they are currently operating out of their 1,000-square-foot apartment). Donations will also help Brown and Allen upgrade equipment, explore new sweeteners and flavors and have their flavors tested by the N.C. State University Food Testing Lab so they can provide nutritional and shelf-life information. The campaign, which debuted last week, already has supporters to help the jerks reach their $7,500 funding goal. The catch, however, is that there’s a time crunch — if the entire fundraising goal isn’t met by Monday, Nov. 11, the jerks will not be able to keep any of the donations, so they are relying heavily on community support and action.
The jerks will be at The Strand this Saturday, Oct. 19 and will debut an apple flavor, so if you missed past combinations like strawberry balsamic, concord grape and blueberry basil, now is your chance to check out their new seasonal offering and support the mission of two Haywood natives who want to showcase the flavors of the area.
“We’re trying to keep the tradition of the preservation of what’s around,” Allen said. “Just like everyone makes jams and jellies in cans, what we’re doing is basically the same — the end result is very different, but the process and the idea is the same.”
Learn more about the Waynesville Soda Jerks or donate to their campaign at www.waynesvillesodajerks.com.