Sugar high

With some 140 varieties of soda, Old Town Rootbeer Company isn’t your typical bunch of soda jerks

POUR ME A FROSTY ONE!Jocelyn Bryan tends the bar at the Old Town Rootbeer Company, opened this month by three siblings and their families.

POUR ME A FROSTY ONE!Jocelyn Bryan tends the bar at the Old Town Rootbeer Company, opened this month by three siblings and their families.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Old Town Rootbeer Company
126 W. Second Street in downtown Chico. Open Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.- 10 p.m.; closed Sun. Phone: 343-8912.

Old Town Rootbeer Co.

126 W. Second St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 343-8912

Seated by the back of the bar, open bottles covering most of the small tabletop, I finally found my carbonated Holy Grail:

Abita Root Beer—gently sweetened by Louisiana pure cane sugar, with a nice spice finish. Magnifico!

My fiancée and I had sampled 18 sodas at that point, and we mustered the fortitude to try three more. But I’d identified my new favorite drink.

Even since I first noticed the “Coming Soon” sign at 126 W. Second Street, I had been waiting to visit the Old Town Rootbeer Company. I love root beer, and up until this week I had tried only a dozen or so. Supermarkets carry A&W and IBC—sometimes Stewart’s, Thomas Kemper or (my previous fave) Henry Weinhard. More exotic varieties are hard to come by.

I knew I’d get to try a lot more … assuming the shop stayed open long enough.

You see, 126 W. Second has a checkered history. That spot between Main and Broadway has housed a handful of businesses since Juanita’s closed in 1997. The Riff Raff Rock Bar replaced the Red Room and lasted a few years; Board in Chico catered to skateboarders for about a year; and Rhapsody, selling home and body products, closed within months of its November 2005 opening.

Enter yet another niche business.

This one might just make it. At 7:30 on a recent weeknight, almost every seat was taken. And the owners have a plan that expands on the original concept—plus most of them have day jobs.

The idea for the Chico store came in June, when Cliff and Teri Myers were on vacation in San Diego. They came across the Old Town Rootbeer Company store in—where else?—Old Town and experienced love at first sight.

Teri called her brother, Craig Bryan, and sister, Denise Rolls. Their mother had operated an Orange Julius on Broadway; the beverage business was in their blood. Within a week, they and their families had acquired the first Old Town Rootbeer franchise.

“The kids are carrying on Mom’s legacy,” said Jocelyn Bryan, Craig’s wife, who along with Denise covers most of the day shifts. The three families split the nights and Saturdays. (When we visited, the Bryans manned the soda bar along with their 15-year-old son, Cody, and 17-year-old daughter, Kelsey).

They sell about 140 bottled sodas for $2 each, with the company’s three “brews” also on tap: Old Town, D’n’A and Route 66. As with the other outlets, they serve ice cream and floats. Unlike the others, they offer food: calzones—homemade by Denise—and hot dogs. By winter, they plan to have soups, chili, cornbread and hot drinks. Future plans include a country store component with candy, crafts and gifts.

For now, soft drinks are the mainstay—in particular, the 45 varieties of root beer.

We started our tasting with Old Town. It’s sweet and mild with no bite—perfect for a root beer float. Jack Black’s has an airy tang. We—and Cody, who joined us—loved Bulldog, created by Fresno State students, possessing a strong a sweet flavor with no aftertaste.

Jocelyn is partial to Route 66, which was my favorite until the Abita. Route 66 has a strong cinnamon flavor that meshes with the honey and cane sugar. Boylan’s Birch Beer got my fiancée Amy’s attention—she identified a wintergreen finish from the birch oils that she found particularly satisfying.

After Abita, we tried High Mountain Huckleberry soda—Amy’s Holy Grail. We finished with Leninade (slogan: “Get hammered and sickled"). We’d had our fill for one night, but we can’t wait to go back and sample some more.