I was in Pittsburgh for a work conference and took some time to call up John Seekings, the central figure throughout my seltzer book, to both meet him in person for the first time AND visit his seltzer works.
It was a beautiful, hot summer day and I arrived at the Works to find the overhead lighting was under repair – nonetheless, my trusty iPhone worked its hardest to capture this lovely 20-minute tour, led of course by the indomitable, and always gracious, John Seekings.
I thought I would take a quick break from the writing to share a little about the status of the book.
This Fall I have been working on strengthening the second half of the book, focusing on integrating in the story of Original New York Seltzer and it’s father/son founders. It’s a fascinating story and I can’t wait to share it all with you. Tomorrow I will finish a strong draft of this segment, which totals about 40 or so additional pages (a surprise to me, as I thought all core writing was finished earlier this year).
It’s been exciting to throw myself back into the research and writing phase – with new interviews and archives of 30 year old articles to comb through – and I’m almost sad this part is almost done. I get such an adrenaline kick from writing – most often during my morning commute on the M line.
Meanwhile, last week I went to my first “book” event at my agent’s office. It was for author’s pitching non-fiction books and editors looking for new books to sell. At least, that’s what was underneath the surface. On the surface, we were all at the same holiday party, drinking seltzer (what else!), eating cheese, and generally schmoozing. It was the first time I had to really sell my book in person – although, supposedly, I needed to pretend I was doing something else, making small talk or whatever – but it was fun. The my agent’s office couldn’t be more supportive of and excited about the project.
I thought I heard them all before! In this clip, Michael Savage, a conservative radio host, tries to understand Bernie Sanders, and ends up on this bizarre rant about seltzer:
“I still think the seltzer has something to do with it. If I had the time, I’d go back to my scientific background and I would do an epidemiological study of the use of seltzer and liberalism and the insanity of liberalism. I think that the high carbon dioxide content, the little bubbles of carbon dioxide poisoned the brains of millions of kids in Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Seltzer bottles. It’s like toxic lead. It’s like Dr. Schuze’s X-ray machines on the feet, the cancer machines.”
I just got off the phone interviewing Randy Miller, who at 17 – not yet out of high school – launched a new beverage company with his dad: Original New York Seltzer. The brand played a big role in making seltzer hip in the 80s and introducing the idea of flavored seltzer in a bottle to America.
Through our interview Randy, who was very generous with his time and stories, turned me on to many things from the 80s of which I had no idea.
One was Zeltzer Seltzer. Anheuser-Busch, who was negotiating with ONYS for a purchase, decided to make their own, which ultimately failed. Check out this crazy radio ad:
When I asked about Randy’s famous jump – featured in the ONYS ad below – I learned about Alphy’s Soda Pop Club. But first the ad:
Turns out the jump wasn’t filmed FOR the ad. Rather, it was done, in part, for Alphy’s Soda Pop Club, and later used for the ad. Miller was the sponsor for the Club and, having always wanted to be a stunt man, used the opportunity to do his thing. But what, you might ask, was Alphy’s Soda Pop Club?
A regular attendee, who did this great but sad interview with fellow attendee Corey Haim about it, described it this way: “Alphy’s Soda Pop Club, the one and only disco designed for kids ‘in the industry,’ enjoyed a Hollywood lifespan of three years, from 1986 to 1989. With a clientele aged 16 and under, the club guaranteed a dance floor full of the hottest teen stars as well as all the free soda you could drink. It was the ultimate teenage wonderland.”
In the interview Corey talks about holding Miller’s tiger for him during his jump and about how close they were.
Randy Miller is one of the coolest people I have ever met… I hung with Randy a lot. He was one of my best friends. I will forever love Randy.
Yes, Randy not old started a multi-million dollar beverage company that changed the face of seltzer, he also had a passion for big cats.
One time, Randy, myself, and two other people—we were in a limousine with a jaguar, and Randy passed me the leash and said, “Hold it from here, and if he gets out of line, just hit him lightly on the side of his head and say, ‘Down! Down! Down!’ Just give him the commands I’m giving you.” And then suddenly the jaguar woke up in the limo and let out a RAAAAAWWR, so the vet who was in there had to shoot him up with a little bit of a tranquilizer. I mean, you’re talking about a wild animal in a limousine! You know what I mean? Everybody could have been dead! But by the time we got out of the limo, I was holding the jaguar and everything was cool.
How do I spend more than a decade writing this book and not learn about such a fascinating piece of seltzer history until now?!!
Florida seltzerman, Ryan Pinnell from Treasure Coast Seltzer Works, received this excellent local TV coverage. Ryan and the fascinating origins of his interest in seltzer are in my book.Treasure Coast company restores old fashioned ‘Seltzer Man’
Story by Mary Quinn O’Connor/CBS12WEST PALM BEACH (CBS12) — While soda consumption is down in America, Americans still like a little fizz in their drinks.
Ryan Pinnell from Treasure Coast Seltzer Works has what he says is the perfect compromise.
“Seltzer is water with bubbles,” said Pinnell.
No caffeine, no chemicals and no calories – unlike its counterparts tonic water and club soda.
Treasure Coast Seltzer Works is one of the only four siphoned seltzer water manufacturers in the country, with old fashioned delivery services taking many on a trip down memory lane.
“We are the old school seltzer man,” said Pinnell.
The recent resurgence in the fizzy drink has business better than ever.
For the tenth straight year, soda consumption is down.
Americans drank nearly 1.5 billion fewer cases last year than in 2004, when soda sales hit an all-time high.
In the meantime, carbonated water sales are booming
“Look at the big players, Pepsi, Canada Dry. They are all launching sparkling products,” said Pinnell. “It’s very difficult for a large bottler to do what we do.”
The proof is in the pudding for Pinnell. Since founded in 2012, Treasure Coast Seltzer Works have seen around 40 percent growth each year.
They hand-bottle more than 1200 bottles a day.
It keeps him busy, but he says that’s not such a bad thing.
“You put so much time into something, it’s your baby,” said Pinnell.
Today CBS aired the fantastic piece on seltzer’s resurgence (take a drink every time you hear the word) which is a sort of a video version of the recent Wall Street Journal piece. Not that I’m complaining – the more press outlets that cover the rise of seltzer the more people will understand how timely my book is, which captures that very transition.
You can watch the full piece on their web site here or just watch it below:
I thought they did a great job with the piece. What do you think?
Inspired by the Wall Street Journal article earlier this summer, CBS News contacted me to be the “seltzer expert” in their piece expected to air tomorrow morning, Saturday, on CBS Morning Show (8:15 a.m. in NYC). It was flattering to be asked and awesome to be part of yet another of what I am calling the “seltzer resurgence” meme in the press this summer.
I met them on 11th avenue and 45th street, at a bar that serves seltzer from The Brooklyn Seltzer Boys. I sat at a table with Mark Albert, glasses of seltzer between us, and for a half hour or so we talked seltzer.
I look forward to watching it tomorrow and sharing it with all of you. If you watch, let me know what you think!
When I interviewed Kenny Gomberg many years ago, proprietor of Gomberg’s Seltzer Works, he told me about a former employee, George Williams, who retired in the 1970s. An African-American who moved as a boy from North Carolina, he worked in a number of seltzer works around NYC for over two decades. I was very interested in his story – both as an individual and to the extent it shed light on the African-American labor that worked behind the scenes to keep the city in seltzer.
After a number of years, I finally got to sit down with Mr. Williams this week, now 86 years old (it’s been a busy week for me and seltzer!). It was fascinating to hear the tale of how he entered the business (while competing on the boxing circuit), learned Yiddish from his new boss, and spent five years fighting to get into the Hebrew Soda Workers Union.
This past week I was in Pittsburgh and meet in person, for the first, John Seekings, proprietor of the Pittsburgh Seltzer Works, whom I have been interviewing for over 4 years and whose business is the centerpiece of my book. It was thrilling to meet him for the first time and to walk the floors of the Works. John was as generous as ever – with his time and stories – and helped me to understand the Works in a new way, up-close and personal.
I took a video that I will prepare and share at a later date but, in advance, here are some photos. (View all the photos here)