Mark Lazarchic didn’t expect people would show up. He didn’t expect them to swarm his Spring Lake Park soda shop — which he wrote off as a “stupid idea” — and sometimes drive hundreds of miles to get there.
And he sure as heck didn’t think they would turn out in droves to see his vintage bottling machine, which debuted last month.
After opening Blue Sun Soda Shop in November 2015, Lazarchic said he spent the first two months convinced that no one would drop by. Then, the strangest thing happened: People showed up.
The meteoric popularity of the store, where a few thousand customers now venture each month, has come as a shock, he said.
“People kept showing up and kept showing up,” Lazarchic said. “I was mystified by it.”
Now the store offers more than 1,300 different sodas, making it one of the most notable collections in the country.
Last summer, Lazarchic bought Whistler Bottling Co., a Minnesota soda company with dozens of tested flavors as well as 90 experimental ones. He also acquired the company’s bottling equipment and has been making Whistler soda and distributing it, along with other varieties, across the Twin Cities since January.
The vintage romance of a 1952 bottling machine makes sense inside Lazarchic’s shop, which feels nothing short of a time warp.
The checkered tiles, the 1935 Chevy truck parked near the pinball games, the 1950s Pandora radio and the shelves filled with glass bottles and fizzy brews all underscore that this is a store dealing in the currency of nostalgia.
Now a 1952 Dixie Bottler has been added to the mix at 1625 County Road 10. Lazarchic knows the light blue, temperamental machine is not the most pragmatic choice when it comes to bottling.
“But I love the way it looks and runs,” he says, gesturing to the bottler on a recent afternoon. “I love how clunky it is. Modern machines have no soul to them.”
The machine can bottle up to 250 cases of colorful soda a week, and the store has initial plans to bottle and distribute about 5,000 cases a year.
The 8-ounce glass Whistler soda bottles are reusable, a trait that Lazarchic said his soda crew found especially appealing. Once they’re empty, Blue Sun Soda Shop fetches the bottles from their distribution sites — mostly brew pubs, restaurants and theaters — washes them, refills them and sends them back out.
On the machine, glass bottles chime and chirp as some are washed, while others slide under nozzles spouting colored syrup and charged water. Employee Jordan Sears often spends his days tinkering with new Whistler flavors near the bottler.
“I make a tiny batch, taste it and then adjust,” Sears said.
So many families showed up in January to sample flavors and tour the new bottling line that Lazarchic had to hold a second tour Feb. 4 and has scheduled a third for Feb. 25. Shoppers point to the retro ambience as a key draw.
“It was like I was stepping back in the 1950s,” said Del Helms-Boyd, who came with her Brooklyn Park family not once, but twice, to tour the facility. “Soda for us was a treat when we were kids.”
The shop’s fandom includes City Hall. In December, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance amendment to allow the bottling operation.
“He picks up a real wide following from across the metro,” said City Administrator Dan Buchholtz. “It’s been great for his business but also increases traffic to other businesses.”
Lazarchic said he’s full of ideas, like planning a Minnesota soda festival and opening a second store in the south metro later this year.
He’s not expecting much, it seems, except that whatever happens may be nothing short of a surprise.