Old Town Root Beer Company, a little shop, tucked in on Front Street, welcomed Taste of Temecula with open arms.
Upon entry to this narrow shop, visitors are swept into a time warp–from the Pop Art ads on the walls, to shelves lined with every bottled soda imaginable. And I do mean EVERY bottled soda.
On this lovely spring day I brought my daughter and parents to sip root beer floats, and meet John and Cory Montgomery, the owners of this establishment. While listening to their history, I learned some things–both about how root beer is made, especially Old Town Root Beer–and the secret Montgomery family recipe. I also learned a thing or two about my parents, watching them reminisce about their childhoods, digging through ice water buckets for their favorite flavors. All of which, I might add, were on the shelf and in the cooler for the taking.
The kids sat outside on the porch with their bottles for people-watching. We sidled up to the bar, inspecting what must have been a hundred-thousand bottle caps, tossed into the clear bar-front by customers over time. Cory poured us the traditional Old Town Root 66 Root Beer, a spicy, fizzing sweet drink with heady flavors of honey on the nose, and lingering vanilla-cinnamon aftertaste–along with sarsaparilla root zing. It’s that root for which the drink is named.
While my parents perused shelves of more than 300 sodas–including their beloved Orange Crush, Grapette, and Dr. Pepper that sparked so many memories–John Montgomery waxed about his vast and exciting career in the bottling and distribution industry. Starting with his family’s Dr. Pepper bottling plant, one of many businesses owned by this entrepreneurial family–he also worked with Coca Cola to open a “Coke” bar in the Ukraine, among other places.
They still run a successful printing business, and supply many t-shirts and hats for sporting teams and Old Town events. Together with his wife of 46 years, they opened Root Beer shops like this one across California–only recently closing all but the last remaining jewel. The Front Street location. Another outlet in Chico is independently owned, still featuring the three flavors of root beer made from the Montgomery family secret recipe.
Speaking of secrets…
John’s grandmother–105 and living in Oklahoma–handed down her family Bible to his son. In its pages, he discovered a folded, worn, onion-skin paper. On it, a handwritten recipe, containing ingredients like nutmeg, honey, cinnamon, and garlic. John vividly recalled the bottled drinks cooling in the river, by his grandparent’s home, and the popping sounds some lids would make as the bubbles expanded.
When they asked his mother about “Granddad’s” recipe, she just laughed. It was Mom’s Root Beer, she said, almost daring them to try to brew the complicated recipe. They did, and according to John, “The first batch was awful!” When his mother refused to divulge any secrets, Montgomery sought out the help of a chemist, who broke down the mixture, figuring out the proper brew, timing, and methods required. Now, they offer three flavors based from that original recipe:
- Root 66 Root Beer
- Vanilla Root Beer
- D & A Root Beer – lovingly named for their grandsons’ college fund! and much sweeter than the other two
When I asked John what business he was most proud of owning through the years, he couldn’t pinpoint just one, looking instead to his wife and partner of 46 years. Cory smiled, a gleam in her eye as well. They’re narrowing down their focus, surviving a rough year of health issues and coming out ahead. She’s refused to let John take too much time on anything but being healthy, and staying involved in their work.
It’s obvious the two rely on each other, happily inviting all customers in with smiles of greeting and lollipops for the kids. You might step in as a browser, but you’ll leave with a bottle or two of their famous Root Beer ($2.00 ea), a Root Beer Float ($4.50 ea), or a case or two of a soda you remember sipping as a child.
My mother, I know, has been enjoying her mini-bottles of Dr. Pepper–what John calls the Cadillac of the Dr. Pepper company. She couldn’t agree more, as she is now teaching my children the most refreshing way to end a warm spring day in Temecula. With a cold bottle of soda in your hand.
Old Town Root Beer Company is located at 28545 Old Town Front Street, Suite 103