By Emma Kent // Photos by Lauren Wood
When they set out to start 3Sip Soda, Will Rambo, John-Michael Marlin and Spencer Gray had no idea what they were doing. What they did know, though, was that their idea for locally made flavored sodas could be a hit in the Tupelo community.
The three friends started thinking about the idea while visiting North Carolina several years ago when they tried a local soda during their trip.
“We talked about how we thought it was something that would take off in Tupelo,” Rambo said. “There’s such a regional focus in this area.”
They talked about it, but they didn’t think it was something they would actually end up doing. Soon after, the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo hosted a competition for entrepreneurs (think Shark Tank) called “The Pitch.” Marlin signed them up, and all of a sudden, they were making business plans.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Rambo said, laughing.
The competition turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for their business. Through The Pitch, they were connected with local business owners and resources that helped them get 3Sip off the ground.
Jeff Carter, co-owner of Queen’s Reward Meadery, mentored the three men during the competition and continues to help them as they navigate owning their small business.
A Family Affair
Gray, Marlin and Rambo do all of the work that goes into producing a bottle of 3Sip soda themselves. They start by creating their syrups, all of which are made from fresh ingredients. Then, they combine the syrup and carbonated water to make the soda. After that, they sanitize the glass soda bottles and fill them, cap them and label them.
Right now, they can make up to 100 bottles per day and about 400 to500 bottles per week.
“It is a timely process,” Marlin said.
They’ve been in business for three years now, although they’ve taken a few breaks. This past winter, the group thought they might stop making sodas and shut 3Sip down, but continued interest from friends, family and community members convinced them to relaunch just a few weeks later.
“Time is a big thing for us,” Marlin said. They all have families, so balancing their full-time jobs during the day with family life and 3Sip can get tricky.
“We communicate with each other and just try to coordinate who can do what and what’s been done,” Gray said.
It helps that the three men work well together. Having been friends for a long time, they enjoy spending time together working. Some days they watch Mississippi State baseball and some days they just catch up on life and chat while they work.
The 3Sip team currently rents a space at Midtowne Point in Tupelo. It’s not a retail space but provides them a place to store their equipment and to produce the sodas.
“These two guys are my best friends, and that’s what makes it easy for me,” Gray said of Rambo and Marlin.
All three of their families also like to get involved with the business. Their wives and children often help bottle the sodas, and the kids especially love trying out new flavors.
“Everybody has a part to play,” Rambo said.
Gray said all three of their families have been very supportive of the endeavor.
“They understand that we need to work hard now for it to pay off later,” Gray said.
Full of flavor
The ingredients of a bottle of 3Sip Soda are simple: Carbonated water and flavored syrup. The syrups 3Sip uses are all homemade with real ingredients like fresh fruit and herbs.
Their two main flavors right now are strawberry-basil and cream soda. They’re also planning to release raspberry-lemon as a flavor this summer.
“We all love it, but I’m excited to see what other people think about it,” Gray said.
The trio admits playing with new flavors is their favorite part of the job. They’ve experimented with an apple-rosemary flavor and a lemon-lime flavor, among many others. They also plan to release seasonal flavors in the future.
“We have a lot more that we like, but we’re not sure that other people will like them,” Rambo said.
Some of the flavors were good right out of the gate, but some were definitely not. They often experiment with flavors in their free time at home, getting feedback from their families.
“Our wives will tell us the absolute honest truth,” Rambo said.
You can currently find the sodas in 15 places around town in Tupelo including Queen’s Reward, C.H.O.P. and Popsy. They’re also available to cater events.
“There’s such a craft culture in the beer and wine world, and no one was really doing anything like soda,” Rambo said.
One of the most exciting parts of launching 3Sip has been getting to be part of that craft food and drink culture on a local level in Tupelo. The three said they’ve long admired chefs and entrepreneurs who have paved the way for that movement in Tupelo like Mitch McCamey of Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen.
“People love to support local, but even local loves to support local,” Marlin said. “For them to allow us to do what we do has been awesome.”
Queen’s Reward was one of 3Sip’s first customers.
“They have pushed it and put it on social media and then people started calling, and it’s snowballed from there,” Gray said. “It’s easy just to put it on your shelf, but they put it up front by the register and put it on the top shelf of their coolers.”
Now, 3Sip Soda keeps the three men busy with steady orders to send out to restaurants in the area. As they move forward with the business, they want to make the product even more locally sourced. They’re working toward the goal of using all local produce in their sodas, maybe even eventually partnering with local farms and orchards to use their produce.