MILWAUKEE – It’s safe to say Haley Jurena is starting college with more liquid assets than her peers.
While others socked away whatever cash they could save for college, the Jurena family of suburban Milwaukee saved for college by making and selling old-fashioned vanilla root beer. With roughly $1 profit per bottle of Haley and Annabelle’s Vanilla Root Beer sold since 2007, the college fund for Haley and her younger sister now exceeds $50,000.
Which is a good thing, considering Haley is about to get her first tuition bill from the University of Minnesota, where she is a freshman in the Honors College. The family plans to keep the root beer business going at least through Annabelle’s college years; she graduates from high school in 2021.
Haley was 10 and Annabelle was 5 when they and their dad, Dave Jurena, started Haley and Annabelle’s Bubbly Beverage Co., based out of the family’s Soup Market business. Dave Jurena was chef-owner of two Soup Market locations back then; now he has five. The vanilla root beer is sold at all five locations, plus the girls’ grandfather’s barber shop and a farmers market on Saturday mornings.
The business has its own Facebook page where the family keeps fans posted on milestones, including when Haley started applying to colleges last fall.
The spark for the business came when Haley was in kindergarten and her dad made homemade vanilla root beer and ice cream to serve root beer floats to her classmates. It was an immediate hit.
“We did some research. Tried every root beer out there and experimented with flavors,” Dave Jurena recalled.
“It’s a passive way to make money,” he said. “We mix up the syrup and it’s sent off to be bottled. Once we get it back, it trickles out the door a couple cases here and there. This is delayed gratification. It was never like a part-time job with a paycheck at the end of the week.”
The girls learned that part of every sale goes back into the product.
It costs 73 cents to produce each bottle of root beer, including ingredients, bottling with carbonation and the labeling. Dave Jurena’s produce provider hauls the root beer syrup they mix in the Soup Market kitchen to the bottler, then hauls back 100 cases of root beer per batch a couple of times a year.
The photos of the girls on the bottle labels have changed through the years from goofy little girls to poised, smiling teens. The recipe that attracted a small-but-loyal following hasn’t changed. They still use pure Madagascar vanilla extract, not artificial extracts like some sodas on the market.
The root beer has always sold for $2 a bottle or $24 for a case of 24 bottles.
Dave and Jill Jurena had conversations early on with friends about how to save for their daughters’ college educations.
“You can only put so much aside,” Jill said. “Dave and the girls doing this also was a great way for them to spend time together.”
Haley worked behind the counter at one of the Soup Market locations and sold soup and root beer at the farmers market, too, to earn spending money, since the root beer profits go to the bank. She knows she has something special.
“My parents are being very generous,” Haley said. “They have a spreadsheet that shows, depending on my GPA in college, how much they will pay. If I get a 3.8 or higher, they’ll pay 100 percent.”
She still plans to take out small loans, and her grandparents offered to buy her books.
The root beer venture provided plenty of fodder for Haley’s college application essays. One of her essays was about the 25 cents per case of root beer sold that is donated to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where she had surgery twice within her first month of life. Her parents match those donations.
“It means a lot because they did a lot for me as a baby,” Haley said of the hospital. “I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for Children’s.”
The root beer college savings is about more than just money.
“It’s really cool to have something with my sister and my dad that we do together, and we’re very lucky to have a dad with a background in business,” Haley said. “We’re thinking about expanding the flavors now. Maybe a limeade.”
Dave Jurena hopes his daughters are proud of what they accomplished together.
He also hopes that by learning to market the root beer, they learned to position themselves for their own careers.