Twenty customers have come and gone in the past hour, a time that can also be marked with four spills and six variations of the Raspberry Dream.
And that was before things got busy. Now, the line of cars outside is growing. And growing. And growing.
Four employees rotate in and out of the shop, walking out to take orders and payments, handing sodas and cookies out the drive-thru window, or mixing sugary concoctions on the drink line. During the rare in-between moments, they race to refill the Torani syrups and frost a few more cookies.
It’s Monday morning at the Logan Swig n’ Sweets, and the baristas — yes, that’s what they call themselves — are fighting to keep up with demand.
While the morning crowd in other U.S. cities clusters mostly at cafes and coffee shops, many of those searching for a morning kick in Logan and other cities across Utah find their caffeine refuge in the growing number of soda shops.
“At first it was a culture shock,” said Sonja McGough, an employee at Swig, a chain of drive-thru soda shops that started in 2010 in St. George and has since grown to 17 locations in Utah and Arizona. Competitor Sodalicious, based in Provo, has 24 locations in those states plus Idaho, the so-called “Mormon Belt.” And Fiiz, based in Bountiful, has 30 locations in those states plus Nevada and Texas.
“It amazes me that soda shops outnumbered coffee shops,” McGough said. “People are serious about their Diet Coke.”
McGough moved to Utah last year from Seattle, Washington. There, as a high schooler, she spent her mornings and afternoons sitting in low-lit coffee lounges surrounded by friends, the air thick with the smell of crushed coffee beans and the sounds of an espresso machine in the background.
This scene in her memory stands in stark contrast to the bright colors jumping from Swig’s drink menu board hanging above the cash register, the peppy pop playing over the loudspeaker from an employee’s iPhone and the sounds of soda fizzing from the fountain machines.
And none of those coffee shops ever felt this busy.
Swig manager Cailee Curtis had some bad news.
“Vanessa, the Mountain Dew is all out,” she told customer Vanessa Borges.
This doesn’t quite qualify as an existential crisis, but it’s clearly a bummer for Borges. Before the soda shop opened in 2016, Borges didn’t think the soda fountain experience could expand beyond a Mountain Dew from the machines at Maverick. Borges now drives the 15 minutes from her home in Paradise solely for the Bloody Wild, a Mountain Dew with mango and strawberry puree. This is her weekday routine. Saturday she will buy two, one for that day and one she puts in the fridge for Sunday.
“Well, when do you get more of it?” Borges said.
“Not until 4 o’clock this afternoon,” Curtis said.
This meant another trip back into town for Borges. But rather than altering her daily dose of “liquid happiness,” as her daughters call it, she agreed to come back when her favorite soda had been restocked.
Curtis commended her customer’s dedication.
“It’s called an addiction,” Borges replied.
Coffee isn’t a common household staple in many Utah homes because of religious beliefs tied to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church members account for nearly 62 percent of Utah’s 3.1 million residents. Since 1883, the church’s “Word of Wisdom” has counseled members to avoid alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea.
Soft drinks, though, didn’t gain widespread popularity in the United States until the early 1900s. And in 2012, the Latter-day Saints church even clarified its stance to let members know that the policy doesn’t apply to drinks besides coffee and tea.
“A morning Diet Coke is a church mom’s coffee,” said Zyanne Corbridge, the assistant manager at Swig. “There is always a line of moms waiting when we open in the morning.”
The soda shop crowd reflects a range demographics depending on the time of day. Afternoon brings in groups of students just leaving school, while the evening draws in couples on dates or professionals just needing a lift after a long day of work.
Borges said there is a sense of solidarity when passing people on the street or in the store who also have a Swig cup.
“You’ll hold up yours as they hold up theirs, and it’s like, ‘Yeah we’ve got this, go team!’” Borges said.
She said Swig really brings people together, and if you find out your children’s teacher’s favorite soda, it makes for a perfect teacher appreciation gift.
“Often it is my goal or my light at the end of the tunnel,” said Riley Samples, a student at Utah State University. “I plan trips to Swig after exams or even when I make it to class when I didn’t want to go in the first place.”
She argues that the foam cups, pellet ice and seemingly endless combinations of 25 syrups, eight fruit purées and a choice of vanilla or coconut cream forms many holy mixtures and solves many of life’s problems.
The nutrition facts are not posted on the menu, and McGough said she always cringes when people opt for regular soda rather than diet soda, but customers argue that the flavor is just not the same.
“I feel bad,” McGough said, “like I’m just handing out diabetes.”
She might be.
Swig sells drinks up to 44 ounces. In that quantity — and even without the extra flavors — a Coke comes with abut 130 grams of sugar. (That’s like eating about 40 sugar packets.)
That makes Mateja Roskos cringe.
Roskos is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science at USU and the director of the Master of Public Health Programs.
“I am a supporter of all foods in moderation,” Roskos said, “and while a small soda could be a part of a healthy diet, regular consumption of soda contributes to a higher calorie intake which leads to weight gain which leads to other chronic health problems.”
But, she said, “regular consumption of soda contributes to a higher calorie intake which leads to weight gain which leads to other chronic health problems.”
Growing up in the Midwest, she hadn’t come across a soda shop until she moved to Utah. Roskos said she is fascinated by the fact that there are so many shops that just sell one or two menu items.
“It is fascinating that they stay in business,” Roskos said, “but I guess it is more than a trend and more of a lifestyle.”
A lifestyle that only needs about two dollars every day to sustain.
“I love my drink and it is something that I can drink,” Borges said about her daily soda. “Swig and other soda shops really cater to this community and its needs, and besides all that it brings people together.”
Indeed, on the day when the Mountain Dew ran out, it brought her and Curtis together twice.
“Thanks for coming in today,” Curtis said. “Say hi to your girls for us.”
“See you tomorrow,” Borges said.