We don’t do everything right in Utah, but we make a dirty, nasty soda.
On December 20, Olivia Rodrigo, the boss of America’s breakups, posted a photo of herself holding a 32-ounce Swig.
The iconic photo struck a chord in the wake of a New York Times article about the dirty soda store phenomenon in Utah.
These are exhilarating times for those of us who regularly hang out with Swig or Sodalicious or Thirst or Fiiz or honestly whatever establishment is closest as they all serve the same soda with the same Torani syrup and the same cold cookies at the pink sugar.
Suddenly the nation seems to be waking up and smelling of aspartame, and, as The Times reports, dirty soda stores are spreading across the West.
I don’t know why it took so long.
I guess we were always ready to be innovators in the soda business, given that many of us adhere to a religious food and drink code that prohibits coffee. Instead, we drink our caffeine cold, on ice, and in 44-ounce styrofoam cups. This has always been the way of our people. What’s relatively new, however, is the addition of fruit, Italian syrup, and dairy to the equation.
Dirty Diet Coke – the mother of all dirty sodas – arrived on the scene in the early 2010s. Light Coke mixed with coconut syrup, fresh lime and a hint of half and half became the Utah’s official drink of tired moms. And it became Swig’s flagship drink, followed soon after by Sodalicious.
Much has been written about the war between the two stores in their relative infancy. I have to assume that some sort of settlement has been found since both stores are opening franchises throughout the valley. Plus the aforementioned offshoots, serving all the same drinks, with the same syrups and the same cold pink cookies. And they all seem to be thriving.
Maybe that’s because they cater to busy moms in a world that often fails to cater to busy moms. Drive-thru services are essential for parents who are rushing between pickup at school and various school stops, or those with giant car seats and toddlers in tow. The thought of having to unload my kids from the car and charge them is often enough to keep me from going somewhere. The soda stores got me.
Or it could be that we like our specifically Utahn inventions.
Just as vegans will tell you they’re vegans seconds after meeting them, a Utahn will tell you about the sauce for fries. “Oh, you mean the thousand island dressing?” You might respond, to which they will say, “No, it’s different” (even if it isn’t).
Or maybe it’s because dirty sodas are delicious. Corn of course they are. Something delicious layered on top of something delicious is delicious. Ice cream is best with toppings. Pizza is better with pepperoni. A Light Coke is best with lime and a hint of coconut syrup.
It could also be that these stores offer customers a little respite from the mundane and rigors of everyday life. A sip of happiness, maybe a bite of something cooked and frozen, is just enough to add a brief escape from those really long afternoons, which is probably why a street full of Draper is blocked with cars. waiting to go through the Swig drive-thru service every day at 2:30 p.m.
Last year, when we were neck and neck in the COVID-19 lockdown, I made a habit of visiting Swig every afternoon. It was sometimes the only place I went all day. Just for a few dollars, he never failed to deliver.
I don’t know if these stores will be as successful nationally as they are here. I once visited a Rio cafe in Colorado and was amazed that I couldn’t find any other customers. Not everything can survive crossing state borders. And if I’m being completely honest I’m not sure I want to, as exciting as it can be to see a celebrity hold a Swig mug. I think there’s a certain charm that these stores are as ubiquitous as the Latter-day Saint Chapels along the Wasatch Front. It’s specific to us and our way of life, and there might be a real sense of loss if they spread all over the place.
But if they take off nationally, or even globally, I won’t complain about being minutes away from a 44-ounce Diet Coke on pebble ice with lime.
Meg Walter is the editor-in-chief of The Beehive and a contributor to Deseret News.