“How many of you want to try every kind of soda we have in the store?” Matt Baysinger asks the two dozen kids that are attempting to keep their minds from exploding all over their field trip shirts and the three month-old Mass Street Soda (1103 Massachusetts, Lawrence) shop.
The children from a nearby summer camp all raise their hands as their eyes dance over neon green and candy red and punchy orange soda bottles. With more than 1,000 bottles, it looks like it will be a while before they get back to camp.
“I was thinking more like two or three,” Baysinger says.
The kids cheer. It’s hard not to be happy in a shop that sells only pop. A mutual love of craft soda spurred Lawrence residents and friends Baysinger and Luke Thompson to open Mass Street Soda in April.
“We’re on the soda diet,” Baysinger says. “Luke has lost 20 pounds and I’ve lost 12. It works, just as long as you’re lifting 35-pound boxes and on your feet 10 to 12 hours a day.”
On a recent Tuesday, Baysinger and Thompson are also smiling. The health department has signed off on them scooping ice cream in their shop. The soda salesmen are about to be in the float business. A scoop of Blue Bell ice cream will add a $1 to your $2 soda purchase. The drinks will be available to go or you can plop down on a red stool at the wooden bar and slurp your purchase on the spot. Mass Street Soda recycles all its bottles through Ripple Glass.
The store carries between 1,100 and 1,400 kinds of soda at a time. They’re organized by flavor. The center section is all fruit sodas: mango, grape, peach and kiwi. There’s an entire wall of root beer and an area devoted to international sodas.
“People come in for two reasons,” Baysinger says. “They either want to taste the best soda possible or they want to try our craziest soda.”
The craziest could be the beef teriyaki soda or the chocolate maple bacon soda. The best requires a bit more thought.
“I’ll ask people, ‘do you want something sweet or spicy or medicinal?” Baysinger says. He then goes to explain that sodas, like craft beer, can also be seasonal. “Sprecher’s is my favorite cream soda. It’s really thick and heavy. I like it in the fall and winter. But when it’s hot outside, I want the Manhattan Special [Vanilla Cream], it’s a lot more refreshing.”
The soda shop carries three varieties in cans. Nehi – the peach soda that says summer to so many locals [read this brilliant Kansas City Star story from last summer about Peach Nehi floats and Iconium, Missouri, to understand the fuss] – Vimto (a red cream style soda originally from England), and Inca Kola (a cola champagne from Peru).
“If we wanted to carry Nehi in bottles, we’d have to drive to North Carolina to pick it up,” Baysinger says. “We’re not opposed to that.”
The staff favorites are on a white shelf in the back right of the store and the 40 top sellers are in a fridge next to the wooden soda bar with red stools. Every other bottle in the shop can be chilled in two minutes with a battery-operated spin chiller – a hand-held device a little bigger than a glue gun that rapidly rotates a bottle in a cooler of ice [the spin chillers – which work with cans and bottles – are available for purchase for $30].
“We probably go through two a week,” Baysinger says of the spin chillers. “We’re working on a prototype that’s attached to a drill. It’s the manliest thing in the world because it looks like a laser gun.”
In the coming weeks, Baysinger and Thompson are hoping to add soda on draft, as well. They’ve got a kegerator and are looking at making their own sodas, possibly a root beer or a butter beer with cream soda and butterscotch topping.
“I just love seeing the way people’s eyes light up,” Baysinger says. “You can really dork out on soda here.”