AUSTIN (KXAN) - Dublin, Texas, 150 or so miles northwest of Austin, would be completely alien to residents of the Texas capital city, if not for one very important fact.
Until mid-January, Dublin was home to Dublin Dr Pepper , the iconic soft drink bottler known for sweetening the well known drink, not with the corn syrup used by major bottling companies, but with the original cane sugar.
The settlement agreement that ended a trademark infringement law suit between the small Dublin bottler and the large Dr Pepper Snapple Group specified that the Dublin folks would no longer be allowed to produce and market the product.
The development made national headlines, but in Austin, folks took the news harder than most.
"I sell more of all of our products in Austin, Texas, than I do in the six counties around Dublin, Texas," said Jeff Kloster, who owns the bottling company with his father and two other partners.
Kloster was in Austin Friday to discuss strategy for the future with some of his best customers. That, however, is not so unusual. You see, in still another connection between Dublin and Austin, both towns share Kloster.
"I live here in Austin," he said. "I live in Dublin part of the week and in Austin the rest of the week and I make deliveries here."
That's right; the owner of the company makes deliveries.
"Even though I own the place, I love coming out here and delivering it," said Kloster. "I don't want to sit in a big board room and make decisions about people's lives. I want to get out here and sell soft drinks and have fun."
That notion of small businesses versus big corporations strikes a receptive chord in the ears of Brandon Hodge, proprietor of the Big Top Candy Shop on Austin's South Congress Avenue shopping district.
He was attracted to Kloster because of some trouble he encountered not long after opening his business some four years ago.
"We had a problem in that the sodas we made for ourselves, you know, vanilla and blueberry syrups, were all pure cane sugar," Hodge said. "But the sodas we were getting from the big manufacturers were all corn syrup. I knew the solution to that was in Dublin, so I tracked Jeff down just as soon as I could."
Kloster started making regular deliveries of Dublin Dr Pepper and other syrups and soft drinks to Hodge and several other SoCo businesses.
Their business relationship grew into a friendship and when things began to unravel between Dublin and Snapple, the candy shop owner became dismayed. He was particularly troubled by what he saw as a lopsided battle between small and big business.
"It only begins to differ in scale," said Hodge, "when a single person employing 12 people becomes six board members employing 300. What gets lost in that translation is compassion.
"It shouldn't be that way; it doesn't have to be that way in corporate America, but it is," Hodge went on.
"I think you can see it in the national news headlines every day. There's simply a disconnect of compassion. There's a point where you have to answer to stockholders; you have to answer to board members and that compassion just gets lost."
Indeed, several employees at the Dublin plant lost their jobs in the dustup with Snapple. The company, though, still has products to sell.
"The good news is we've got XXX Root Beer," Kloster said. "We've still got Big Red.
"We've got all the flavors that we carry: a grape, an orange, tangerine cream, vanilla cream and people want that stuff.
"It will take us about a year to kind of get over the hump of not having that day-to-day sale of Dr Pepper products within our six counties, but we're going to come out the other end of this stronger than we came into it."
Still, Kloster's customers and their customers on down the line will not be drinking Dublin Dr Pepper after current supplies run out.
That realization propelled hundreds of people to descend Friday on all five locations of the off-beat chain of burger joints called P. Terry's Burger Stand . They were drawn in by the promise of a free Dublin Dr Pepper t-shirt with every purchase of the drink.
The onslaught led owner Patrick Terry to predict a record sales day. In the restaurants, there was a sense of celebration, but it was deeply tinged with sadness, too.
"We had a connection, you know," said Terry. "We sold more Dublin Dr Pepper than we sold Coca Cola. It was our number one selling drink.
"We're mourning the loss and I'm not kidding. This is a big deal to us and a big deal to our customers."
Terry expects to run out of Dublin Dr Pepper in the next week or so. Then it will be up to his customers to decide on a replacement, probably through a Facebook vote.
Knowing those customers as he does, though, Terry said he expects them to choose another Dublin product, in an effort to support the business.
Kloster is grateful.
"You've got the major soft drink brands; they'll always exist; they'll always serve the big box stores," he said.
"I get it; I understand that. But in the niche market for quality products, I think you're going to see that Dublin
Bottle Works, along with a lot of other people, will pave a path.
"It's find a niche, work with your local customers and focus on the small guy.
"This idea of small business supporting each other," he said, "without the drain of corporate American telling you what the hell to do every day, it's a beautiful thing.
"I don't make a ton of money but we make enough money to employ some people and keep them happy in Dublin, Texas.
"We've got happy customers; that's what it's all about."
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