Cherikee Red: Rediscovered soft drink from Scranton makes comeback but still is scarce


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WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- Scranton-produced Cherikee Red had been popular in Northeastern Pennsylvania for decades, but the recent reintroduction of the soda locally is proof positive that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Call it nostalgia. Or a case of low supply, high demand. Or perhaps the cherry-red soda really is just that tasty.

Whatever the reason, the soda that had been a staple in supermarkets, beer/soda distributors, convenient marts and pizza parlors throughout the region but disappeared from local shelves a half-dozen years ago is making a comeback.

But good luck finding it today.

Fifty cases of Cherikee Red soda bottles were sold in one week at Mike Brunetti's pizza shop and deli in Scranton.

Gerrity's supermarkets, Schiel's supermarkets, Pen Marts and others that were keen enough to take a chance when the product was offered to them this month by a local distributor all reported empty shelves where the bottles once stood only two weeks ago.

Mr. Brunetti said a half dozen people came in looking for the product before 10 a.m. Monday and he had to give them the bad news. He was told by his distributor that the Ohio bottling plant that makes it has sold out of the product, but more is being made this week.

The delivery can't happen soon enough, Mr. Brunetti said.

"I probably could have sold 20 cases on Saturday based on the number of people who came in asking for it," Mr. Brunetti said.

The Canada Dry/Royal Crown Co. distributor in Olyphant is the company placing the orders for local stores, receiving the product from the American Bottling Co. plant in Columbus, Ohio, and then delivering them locally.

Company Vice President Carl W. Halkyer Jr. said sales are "on fire because it is a great brand, and people are thrilled to have it back."

Mr. Halkyer said when he heard the product was being bottled once more, he looked into importing it into Northeastern Pennsylvania. He -- plus hundreds of stores and shoppers -- is glad he did.

When the distributor approached local stores about carrying the item, saying "yes" was a no brainer, said Joe Fasula, whose family owns Gerrity's in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.

Along with Swiss Creme, Birchola and 50/50, Cherikee Red was one of the soda flavors bottled by the now-defunct Crystal Club soda company in Scranton. The plant closed within the last decade.

Mr. Fasula remembers growing up drinking the soda with the distinctive American Indian chief pictured prominently on each can. He said nostalgia for childhood and times gone by are driving interest in sales.

"It was one of my personal favorites from my childhood, too," Mr. Fasula said.

The shelf space designated for the product at the Gerrity's Shur Save Market in Wyoming is bare, and Mr. Fasula gave credit to his grocery-ordering folks for getting in on the ground floor of the hype.

Mr. Brunetti said he thinks there eventually will be a tipping point as the product expands in the region and shelves won't empty so quickly. But he thinks that might be months away.

With limited quantities still being made, he said he expects stores will have trouble keeping them in stock as word spreads that the item is once again available locally.

Robbie Paul, the operations manager for the two Schiel's Shur Save Supermarkets in Wilkes-Barre, said the response has been phenomenal and the empty shelves show that "people have missed it dearly."

On Feb. 8, the first day they got a delivery, all eight cases sold within 15 minutes.

He said people were coming over as the product was unpacked and taking it. On Feb. 12 five more cases arrived and were gone within minutes. On Feb. 15 eight more cases came in and out within a half-hour.

"As a retailer, I personally don't think they understand what they have," Mr. Paul said of both the distributor and the bottler.

But Mr. Halkyer said he knows all too well that they've struck gold, or in this case, red.

"I think right now there's a tremendous amount of buzz around the brand," said Mr. Halkyer, who added that social media are helping to fuel sales and interest.

Facebook pages have been created and people are tweeting about sightings and enjoying their 20 ounces of red heaven.

The Bring Back Cherikee Red Facebook page, started in 2010, has 583 likes and is filled with people mentioning what stores they spotted the product in.

On Twitter, folks such as Ceili Jones of Wilkes-Barre, who tweets with the handle @CeiliAnnieee, posted a picture of a bottle of Cherikee Red with a sandwich from Philly Subs and the hashtag #NEPAdelicacies.

John Lund of Scranton, who tweets using @lundinbridge, also posted a picture of the product and used the hashtag #elixirofthegods.

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