An iconic beverage with Indiana roots dating back more than seven decades had lost some of its sizzle through the years, but Choc-Ola is back with a bang. Daniel Iaria, owner of Rock-Cola Cafe on the east side of Indianapolis is bringing the popular drink back as a means to draw in new customers after three major nearby employers closed their doors. “We had several thousand jobs in this local eastside community that disappeared in a couple months,” said Iaria. “All those potential clients of mine, they’re gone now; they will never come back so I had to find a way to bring people from much further away.
Iaria took over ownership of the cafe in 2008 before the nearby businesses closed. He says the answer to his dilemma was part nostalgia, part curiosity about an iconic chocolate drink from his childhood.
“I just thought of Choc-Ola and said, you know, ‘I wonder what happened to that’ and I’ve never seen it sold anywhere else. I wonder if I can find out where to get it and then I’ll sell it here.”
And it would seem the stars were aligned for Choc-Ola and Iaria to reunite. Iaria said he went to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to see who owned the trademark for the beverage so he could contact them about selling their product.
“The trademark was expired and it had just expired three days before,” said Iaria.
But there was just one problem: he didn’t have the recipe. However, his mother ended up having the missing ingredient.
“So I was talking to my mom one day and she said, ‘Well, why don’t you call the inventor’s sons, the Normingtons’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know those people.’ Well, she did. They used to play cards at my mom and dad’s house when we were growing up – the sons of the original inventor.”
Iaria met with one of the Normingtons, who gave him all of the information he needed. He has personally been cooking up each batch of Choc-Ola on the cafe’s stove ever since.
“I probably go through, I would guess probably 40-50 gallons every 4-5 days is roughly what I end up doing. I make the chocolate syrup, which is the base, and then I make the final concoction in the back kitchen and just keep filling up gallon jugs.”
Iaria says he has had people drive from other states to pick up gallons of Choc-Ola. And soon, Hoosiers and a handful of other states in the Midwest will also be able to purchase Choc-Ola, thanks to Iaria’s partnership with Dave Hunter, a 40-year veteran in the beverage industry, who’s helped develop a distribution strategy to expand the Choc-Ola brand this fall.
Hunter says they want to “reintroduce the brand not in a can, but in a single-serve plastic bottle. We have completely redone the logos. We’re coming up with two new flavors; we’re going to do a strawberries and cream flavor and we’re also going to do an orangesicle flavor like the old orange push-up.”
Hunter says they hope to be able to distribute through the Midwest in September or October, but he and Iaria believe they will have the ability to go nationwide in the next 2-3 years.