By John Lauritsen


ARDEN HILLS, Minn. (WCCO) — Every day, teachers are trying to work out formulas and solve equations, but for one group of educators, the lesson plan has completely changed.

Jesse Hopkins and his crew left the classroom to pursue something much different.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Northern Soda Company in Arden Hills where business is bubbling over.

“After 80 versions and adding some secret ingredients, we realized immediately, there’s the one,” said Hopkins.

This morning it’s root beer. In the afternoon it could be orange, blue raspberry, black cherry or maybe even ginger pop.

All of this is the work of teachers who left the classroom for the canning line.

Hopkins says he went way back in time to find these old recipes.

“We wanted to do the real thing,” Hopkins said. “I went to River Falls and went to look at their microfiche and old newspapers and found recipes and ingredients that were in sodas in the 1950s.”

Jesse is one of the founders of Northern Soda Company, but in a previous life, he was a teacher and an assistant principal in White Bear Lake. He went from teaching science to becoming a soda scientist in his basement.

“I had a bunch of friends who didn’t drink alcohol, and I have a bunch of children, too, so I would make sodas for them. I started thinking there is no one making craft soda the same way breweries are opening tap rooms and making beers,” Hopkins said.

School behavior specialist Davod Zarghami and school counselor Michael Goodwin were also looking to add some pop and fizz in their lives, so they took a leap of faith and joined him.

Goodwin says he sometimes still has to use his counseling skills on the job at Northern Soda.

“Whenever something breaks down, I’m the one they call on. And I have to be that sympathetic ear,” said Goodwin.

But that hasn’t had to happen very much. Since they opened last spring, Northern Soda has more than made the grade. They have 85 accounts across the state at stores like Kowalski’s and Hy-Vee.

“In about 5 feet you go from an empty can to a completely sealed and finished product in just a few feet,” said Jesse. “We can do about a case a minute. About 24 cans a minute.”

What the educators have learned is the hours are a bit different. They will can seven days a week, sometimes until 1 a.m. They use cane sugar and less carbonation in their pursuit of the perfect craft soda.

“It’s unique, unlike anything else out there. There isn’t too much craft soda that’s sold in a can,” said Goodwin.

“Outside of just being a soda factory, we also want to use this as a tool to continue that teaching and continue that learning and almost use our factory as an extension of the classroom,” said Zarghami.

Because their love for education hasn’t fizzed out, on Saturdays they invite kids of all ages to mix and match to create their own case of soda. They’re bringing back the pop shops of the past while creating a formula for the future.

“And really one of my favorites is when someone my father’s age tries the cream soda and says this reminds me of being a kid when I had my paper route. That right there. There is no way to have regrets seeing those two things,” said Jesse.

John Lauritsen

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