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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.