Mom & Pop — Local Red Ribbon Sodas, Natrona, PA

Founded in 1904 — that’s more than 100 years of soda making — Red Ribbon is a small, family-owned soft drink company that takes great pride in their line of retro soft drinks. Made in small batches with real cane sugar and other high-quality ingredients, these sodas come in real glass bottles — a blast from the past.

Vito Gerasole, aka the “Sultan of Soda,” is the owner of this Pittsburgh institution, which he purchased in 2010. “I was working at our family’s restaurant, Gerasole in Shadyside, but had my afternoons free. I was looking for an opportunity. When I went to Red Ribbon and tried the sodas, it was like I was taken back to my childhood — they were so good. I knew what I wanted to do.”

One of the reasons Red Ribbon stays true to old-fashioned standards is that it is still being made on vintage machinery from 60 years ago run by the hands of four dedicated employees in Natrona. This means that rather than carbonating Red Ribbon sodas with CO2 in canisters, they use pinpoint carbonation, which means making their own carbonation with dried ice that is melted down overnight.

“This means our sodas have a cleaner, crisper bubble that is chemical free,” says Vito. “It’s more expensive to do it this way, but we believe in staying true to our heritage. We also don’t use high fructose corn syrup and we only bottle in glass, which is far superior in terms of how it preserves flavor than cans or plastic. Absolutely no leeching.”

When asked his most popular flavor, Vito responded, “Our Jamaica’s Finest Ginger Beer, definitely. We make the very best ginger beer on the market. Ask anyone. It’s a big seller.” Red Ribbon’s Cherry Soda was the original front runner 100 years ago and still tastes and smells like real cherries. The root beer is a dry root beer like your great-grandpap may have made in his basement, but Minted Ginger Ale is Vito’s favorite. “It’s the ultimate refreshment on a hot August day.”