Featured photo: Bingo Bango Soda Co. started in Winston-Salem in 2017 with some fresh-squeeze lemon juice, some carbonated water and a touch of sugar. (photo by Owens Daniels)
Michael Robinson II, a Winston-Salem native, started Bingo-Bango Soda Co. in 2017 with some soda water, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a bit of sugar. Now, more than four years later, Robinson’s business has grown to more than half a dozen flavors sold in shops all around the state. Recently he started a Kickstarter in the hopes of growing Bingo-Bango from the 40 cases per week it currently produces to 200 cases to accommodate growing national demand. The fundraiser aims to raise $30,000 and runs until Feb. 15. Learn more about Bingo-Bango at bingo-bango.com.
Tell me the history of Bingo-Bango soda.
I started homebrewing in 2014. I was working with my brother, Chris, who owns Carolina Vineyards and Hops. At the time, the brewing boom was starting to take hold and I wanted to learn how to brew and sell craft beer. I started to do that in my mom’s backyard. I had a propane burner and everything.
I sucked at it. I just wasn’t good at it. I didn’t have the patience for it, so I ended up converting that equipment for craft soda, and I started with a craft lemonade.
I let friends try it. I would take it to barber shops, family barbecues, anywhere I could take it. I kept honing the recipe and then started working at Coca-Cola to find out where my niche was in the market but ended up getting let go because I was so focused on my business.
I went to my first festival in Charlotte in 2016 at a farmers’ market. I had a keg of sugar water, a lemon press and a jockey box, which is the thing used to dispense beer. I was basically pressing lemon juice onto a cup of ice and tapping the soda water. I just sold one. It was for $2; I kept $1 and put it on my fridge. I gave the other to my mom and she has it on her fridge at her house.
I wanted to give up at that point but that’s when I got inspiration from my grandfather who had just passed away.
I read that the name of the company draws inspiration from your grandfather.
He always would talk about stories like life lessons and perseverance. Whenever he would tell a story, he would cap it off with Bingo-Bango and that’s how he would describe things. I ended up getting a juicer he gave my mom and going to another festival in Charlotte in 2017 and I sold out. In that year, I revamped and came out with a complete product in a keg and had more flavors.
I didn’t make any money at the festival, but that was when Bingo-Bango was born and I kind of decided to see it through.
Why soda? Why not something alcoholic?
I always thought I was pretty creative, and with home brewing you can be as creative as you want to be, but you have to be patient.
And with different flavors of beers, you can’t make the beers until you master the traditional styles first, but I wanted to just jump in and start going crazy with it. When I transitioned to soda, I could get creative with flavors off the bat.
On your Kickstarter you mention that you’re the country’s first Black-founded, owned and operated craft soda company. How did you find that out and how does it feel to be the first?
I was told I was the first and I did some research on my own. I found some other companies that were started after me but weren’t 100 percent Black-owned.
It feels amazing; it’s an honor. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so running something that’s your own isn’t new, but I hope it encourages others into the beverage space.
Tell me how you make the sodas and come up with the flavors. The website says it’s seasonal, so does that mean some flavors are only available for a limited time during the year?
It’s really simple. We use fresh fruit juice, water and cane sugar, and we carbonate it and bottle it and label it and cap it.
I work out of a Carolina Vineyards and Hops, my brother’s place, and coming up with the flavors is completely random. Like my wife came up with pineapple-apple one day when she was walking out the door.
Our most popular flavor is strawberry lemonade. I always wanted to do strawberry lemonade because it’s kind of a gateway to our soda line. There’s a little bit of a research and development process, but I just kind of go for it.
What are your other flavors?
There are four year-round flavors: strawberry lemonade, lemon-peach-pomegranate, pineapple-apple and passionfruit-strawberry. Every fall and summer I introduce a seasonal. This fall and winter is cranapple honey. Last summer I did guava colada, which is guava and pineapple-coconut. Sometimes I’ll do one-off random flavors like black cherry-blackberry. In October for the pumpkin fanatics, I did a pumpkin cream soda. That’s the advantage of being a small-batch, craft company. I can do things like that on the fly; I can do it off of demand.
Ok now for the hard question, what’s your favorite flavor?
My favorite is lemon-peach-pomegranate. I try to make something for everybody, like some of the flavors are sweeter than others. But lemon-peach-pomegranate is very complex. Being a craft beer fan, you get different flavors and aromatics just like you would a wine or beer.
What’s your favorite part about the business?
The interactions with the customers and business owners; that’s what has kept me going on. That connection with people and getting their feedback. And also being able to make relationships with businesses, that’s gratifying to me.
I played basketball in college and that’s the closest thing to a slam dunk. When you’re playing a sport, you get that immediate gratification, but when you’re making a product, you don’t know if they like it until you see a photo on Instagram. I’ll get messages like, “My husband moved to North Carolina for your soda.” Recently, the soda was even used in a proposal.
What are your future plans for the business?
Being able to scale will allow us to grow faster and take on more. We’ve gotten a huge demand nationally as well. Pretty much every week I get an email from someone whether it’s from Pittsburg or Chicago, but I don’t have the means to do it right now. It’s been that way for a while now. It would be great to see it in larger stores, big box stores. That’s what I’m hoping for, to continue to grow.
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