Arts & Culture

How a Root Beer Giant Emerged in a Wine Lover’s Paradise

While many tours center around the great-tasting wines and cascading vineyards characteristic of the region, a slew of visitors flock to Lodi, California, for another beverage entirely—A&W Root Beer®. Did you know Lodi holds the world record for the largest root beer float? In conjunction with A&W’s 80th Anniversary in 1999, the world’s largest root beer float was created – 2562.5 gallons of root beer. So, let’s turn back the clock and learn how A&W’s beloved root beer sprang up right here in the wine-loving city of Lodi.  

A Man Named Roy Allen

Like any great adventure, the story of A&W is filled with enough twists and turns to make you dizzy with intrigue. It all started in 1918 with a businessman named Roy Allen. According to some reports, Allen was operating a hotel at the time, but after befriending a retired chemist, his whole world changed; he just didn’t know it yet! Rumor has it that the chemist told Allen about creating a beverage composed of herbs, barks, berries and spices. Shortly thereafter, Allen and his family packed up and moved from Flagstaff, Arizona to Lodi.  A year later, on June 20, 1919, Allen took his business prowess to the next level. Convinced his root beer would be a hit with Lodi locals, he decided to unveil his special recipe during the homecoming parade for veterans returning from World War I. Much like the food trucks of today, Allen set up a small stand along Pine Street that he knew would be frequented by many patrons attending the parade. Convenient location aside, it was a hot day and his refreshing beverage quenched thousands of people’s thirst. Within a few days, Allen’s popular root beer was all anyone could talk about. He began selling his ice-cold beverage out of mugs for a nickel a piece. Since it was the parade that kicked everything off, June 20, 1919 is the official birthday recognized by A&W. That’s only the beginning, though; there’s lots more to come!

A Lot of Timing and a Little Bit of Luck

While it might seem that Allen simply got lucky with his refreshing root beer, he also had timing on his side. Prohibition went into effect that same year and since people could no longer produce or consume alcoholic beverages, root beer was a welcome alternative, packed with flavor and extremely refreshing on a hot summer day. Allen even designed his root beer stand to resemble that of a traditional bar. The familiar setting was an instant hit and soon became a local hangout. With the success of his root beer stand in Lodi, Allen opened another location in Sacramento, considered to be the first drive-in style bar in the country. Besides offering the convenience of curbside service, the novelty of being able to drink root beer in your car became extremely popular with the growing number of automobile enthusiasts of the 1920s. The success of the first drive-in eventually led to a chain of drive-ins throughout Northern California and beyond. As the company grew, so did Allen’s team, and in 1922, Allen asked one of his employees, Frank Wright, to become his business partner. The two entrepreneurs combined the initials of their last names and called their product A&W Root Beer®.  

A&W Today

The famous A&W Root Beer® has come a long way since its humble beginnings. As with any business, A&W has undergone some changes throughout the years. For example, when World War II hit, more A&W stands opened up and—despite the serious measures the government was taking to ration sugar—the company thrived and prospered. At this point there were more than 450 franchises open! The Lodi A&W location, home to the world’s largest A&W memorabilia collection, hosts Cruise Night every Thursday in the summer, when classic car lovers get revved up on the retro beauty of muscle cars and hot rods. As the decades wore on and more locations sprang up, the culture shifted and so did customer demand. During the 1960s and 1970s, if people wanted to slurp up their favorite root beer recipe, they had to swing by an A&W Restaurant. That all changed in 1971 when cans and bottles became available for purchase. Americans could now consume their favorite beverage in the comfort of their own homes. A&W has the oldest franchise restaurant chain in the United States. While the company has evolved over the years in terms of marketing and ownership, the great-tasting recipe has never faltered. So, with the holidays around the corner, we say it’s time to order up a cold bottle of root beer, kick back and relax.   There’s more magic to Lodi than what’s in your glass. Plan your getaway today!

Published: By Guest Blogger Megan Eileen McDonough

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