A little over five years ago, Megan Brown and Chris Allen saw a need in the gigantic craft beer industry that dominates Asheville and greater Western North Carolina: an alternative.
“There’s a lot of people that can’t or don’t want to drink alcohol, but they do want to consume a locally made craft beverage,” Brown said. “And we’re looking to fill that niche.”
Brown and Allen are co-owners of the Waynesville Soda Jerks, an artisanal beverage company. The couple started experimenting with making their own syrups using local ingredients. Soon, the idea picked up speed, resulting in the eventual purchase of a bottling line a couple of years into the endeavor. As of the last calendar year, they bottled over 50,000 units, with cases being sent to upwards of 75 accounts around Southern Appalachia.
“Well, we were one of the early pioneers, at least regionally, when it comes to artisanal soda. And the hidden story of all entrepreneurs is what really is simmering underneath and all the work that it takes to succeed. It’s been a journey,” Allen said. “We didn’t go to business school. We do have culinary experience, but we’re figuring it out as we go along—that’s the name of the game. And it continues to grow every year, especially in the non-alcohol sector.”
“Since we started, we’ve seen so many other businesses pop up around the region doing kombucha, bottled teas, and cold brew coffees,” Brown added. “They’re really trying to hit the non-alcohol scene in Asheville and Western North Carolina.”
The Waynesville Soda Jerks find genuine solidarity and immense value in the numerous partnerships they’ve created with local and national breweries in our region.
“We see ourselves as parallel with the craft beer industry,” Brown said. “We have a lot of the same philosophies as far as our transparency and sourcing. And we want to offer that same kind of handmade experience.”
Within the company’s array of products, the Waynesville Soda Jerks work either directly or indirectly with around 50 local farmers. These local ingredients range from strawberries to spices, ginger to rhubarb, and the list goes on and on.
“Last year was our biggest year in terms of spending our money for local ingredients. All of the fruit, herbs, and vegetables in our sodas are from this region,” Brown said. “We really want to highlight the bounty that Western North Carolina has and showcase that in our products. We make a lot of efforts to source locally and sustainably, and we work with the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) to assist with sourcing.”
Both Brown and Allen are Haywood County natives. It’s something that they’re not only proud of, but also see as an opportunity to become cultural ambassadors to those looking to relocate or visit the area.
“We love being part of the agricultural community,” Allen said. “It all ties back to the history of this region, the land, and its people.”
“There are so many people that are trying to find a place like Western North Carolina, people who live all over the country,” Brown said. “They’re trying to find the beauty and the simplicity, a place to relax and live peacefully. We love being able to say we’re local and have deep roots here, being able to share what we love about this area with people that come here.”
This post is adapted from our annual Welcome to Western North Carolina magazine. Click here to read more online, or click here to order your own free copy.