‘Cleveland Flea’ enjoying rapid growth and popularity

When the first Cleveland Flea was held last year, it featured 50 vendors and several hundred shoppers.

This year it’s grown to more than 140 vendors and thousands of shoppers.

The Cleveland Flea is held the second Saturday of each month from April through December.

The next event is this Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

It’s held at Tyler Village which is at the intersection of East 36th Street and Superior Avenue.

For more information and directions, click here

Natalie samples Old City Soda

If you’re like Natalie, you need your daily dose of pop! We found a new type for you to taste test – and it’s all brewed locally. Mike Gulley from Old City Soda joined us in studio!

Like what you see? Join them for Cocktail Night on Thursday January 29, 2015 at The Wine Spot on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights!

www.facebook.com/CLESODA

Fizzy Math

Photo courtesy of Suzuran Photography
Photo courtesy of Suzuran Photography

Mike Gulley has a plan, a partner and a product. He’s run the numbers, prepped countless test batches and — after three years of development, false starts and testing the water efforts — he’s ready to make his small batch, all natural, less-sweet pop commercially available under the new brand name Old City Soda, which was formerly known as Cleveland Soda Works. The goal is to launch this summer, and he hopes there will be a storefront cafe-type location, too. But you don’t have to wait that long to taste his stuff.

Gulley will set up shop at the first Cleveland Flea of the season. On Saturday, April 12, he’ll be pouring and selling his non-alcoholic ginger beer — a drink that explodes on your tongue and leaves a tingle behind — as well as Cinchona bark and lemon grass tonic, fruity flavors like grapefruit and a cinnamon version.

Photo courtesy of  Suzuran Photography
Photo courtesy of Suzuran Photography

The pop-up market, held in the parking lot and garden of Sterle’s Country House on East 55th Street, is a terrifically fun event dedicated to all things local, handmade, vintage, repurposed, artistic, edible and curious, making it the perfect match for his liquid creations. A bartender by trade, Gulley will also be mixing up some adult-only cocktails, featuring his own carbonated beverages including a Moscow Mule and a wonderful version of the Dark and Stormy that I’ve had the pleasure of tasting. And if winter continues to resist giving up up its grip, he promises there will be hot toddies, too.

Right now, Gulley’s soda-making is a side venture and he spends most nights and weekends as fruit peeler, brewer and bottle filler. But the 29-year-old hopes that soon he’ll be able to concentrate on bringing us “the most unique crafts sodas out there.” Just thinking about it makes me thirsty.

Maker Series: Old City Soda

Indie Foundry is nothing if not a community. We are influenced and inspired every day by the artists and makers we work with at the Cleveland Flea, and the clients we work for as branding specialists. On Thursdays, join our resident storyteller, Sarah Wilt, and our partners at Suzuran Photography as we profile some of our favorite Cleveland makers and small, creative business owners. This special series is meant to celebrate them. (Sometimes, we even have cake in their honor.)

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Old City Soda::Mike Gulley

Why soda?

The soda market needs major improvement in terms of quality of ingredients. I saw that there were very few soda producers out there making authentic, all-natural sodas and really no micro soda companies.

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Why did you decide to start your own business?

I like to be the boss and the only way not to have one above me was to start my own business.

You are in the process of moving into a space in Tyler Village—what can we expect from that space? Is it just for production or will it be open to the public?

We have been working for the past two months on converting a fairly large warehouse that used to house some sort of wood working shop. Initially, we will just be using the space for production. We recently received our bottling license and are working out some of the kinks in our automated linea. Once we get production running smoothly we will be able to focus time and energy on converting some of our space into a tasting room.

What are your goals and dreams for Old City Soda over the next year?

We are hoping to get into retail shops and grocers heading into 2015. This would lead us to have to triple our current production capability. We then would have a canning line designed for us to produce canned 7-8 ounce sodas. That is our goal. My dream is that Lebron James becomes a fan of our all natural sodas and they help him win a championship for Cleveland.

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Who do you look to for inspiration…

  • as a creative? Other bartenders. I keep a close eye on flavor trends that bartenders are gravitating towards and work with ones that make interesting sodas.
  • and as a small business owner? Other small business owners. From the local dog specialty store to craft donuts made from beer, I have witnessed these guys and gals work hard to launch their ideas into successful brick and mortar establishments. It’s contagious. It feels like I have been working on this concept a very long time (4 years), and I have watched others open their concepts quicker. I could have been discouraged by that, but instead I found determination and motivation through others success.

 

How has the Cleveland Flea helped your business?

It gave me a great opportunity to see what the reception to an idea like craft sodas could be in the northeast Ohio market. I have been able to incubate and really develop the products that work. Overall though, The Cleveland Flea gave me confidence in my ideas.

Have you learned anything about your business by participating in the Cleveland Flea?
I have learned that people love local handcrafted products.

What is the one thing that you will always pay full price for?
This is tough one to answer because I am a cheap ass. I guess beer. I don’t mind inexpensive beer, but I will usually pay a bit more for good smaller produced beer.

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What’s your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?

My biggest struggle from a business standpoint is getting to the next step of hiring someone full time to work with me. Right now, I have family and friends helping me along the way to cut back on labor costs, but I feel bad giving them too much direction and bossing them around.

Where can we find you…

  • during the day?: At the factory making sodas.
  • in the evening?: Hanging out with my pups and my gal at the house.
  • on weekends?: Not in the busy, loud bars. Bartending for 9 years has left me with no desire to go out to busy weekend establishments. You can find me at smaller bars and restaurants just taking it easy.

 

Favorite piece of advice as it relates to food?

Eat and drink local. Eat and drink often. And tip the damn service properly.

Favorite piece of advice as it relates to business?
When you are crunching the numbers on how much money it is going to take to launch your business, take the figure you come up with and then multiply it by 2 or 3. There are always unexpected costs and if you don’t have the working capital then you may find yourself at a standstill or scrambling to make it work.

Crafting a Better Soda

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by Justin Glanville
photo by Laura Watilo Blake

When Mike Gulley has a spare moment—which isn’t often, given his 70-hour workweeks—he likes to kick back with a bottle of his own craft-brewed grapefruit soda.

Oh, and a little tequila.

“It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, those flavors take me right back to July,” he says with a laugh. “Which is important in Cleveland’s colder months.”

Gulley, 29, is the founder of Old City Soda, a craft soda company based on Cleveland’s Near East Side. He got the idea for the business about five years ago, while working full-time as a bartender at the Fairmount Martini and Wine Bar in Cleveland Heights and later XYZ Tavern in Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood.

Gulley noticed his customers were tiring of “90s-style” martinis and developing a taste for traditional cocktails instead. The problem was finding well-made, flavorful mixers. To fill the gap, he started mixing up 5-gallon tanks of his own fresh ginger juice and ginger beer, and selling out every night.

“It was something people had never tasted before,” he says of those early batches. “The flavor was so different and true—icier, earthier.”

To get the business up and running, he had to spend a couple years navigating state regulations about manufacturing and distributing beverages that included fresh juices. Then there was picking a company identity. “Old City” is the English translation of his mom’s maiden name, Altstadt. The bear on the label comes from the family crest.

Local bars and restaurants were his first clients; he sells to a couple dozen. For the past year or so, he’s also been selling direct to customers at farmers markets and the Cleveland Flea.

In addtion to grapefruit and ginger, the mainstay varieties are lemon and tonic. He also rotates in seasonal flavors, such as strawberry ginger, pumpkin spice, and hibiscus berry. All are made from fresh juice rather than natural or artificial flavors.

He moved into his current space, a red brick manufacturing stall in the Tyler Village complex in AsiaTown, in July. New bottling equipment and a labeling machine are allowing him to ramp up production. He’s even considering hiring an employee.

“Right now I’m selling as much as I can make, about 1,000 bottles a week,” he estimates.

Future plans include producing smaller-sized cans, opening a storefront at Tyler Village, and expanding into surrounding markets, such as Columbus and Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, he’s discovered a contingent of fans who are a far cry from the sophisticated adult cocktail drinkers he originally targeted.

“Little kids!” he says. “I was really surprised how much they like it. Parents will come up and buy a 4-pack for themselves, and they’ll throw in a couple for the kids.”

The youngsters’ favorite flavors? Strawberry ginger, lemon, and tonic.

Which leaves plenty of grapefruit for the adults.

To find out more about Old City Soda and where you can get a taste, find them on Facebook.