Coca-Cola's Freestyle fountains, the most recent revolution in soft drink vending, allow customers to select their quaff from 125 different branded beverages. But now Potbelly Sandwich Shop is shaking up the soda scene with a fountain for its many guests who'd rather choose between just two drinks -- Coke and Pepsi.
"We do not know if Potbelly is the first chain restaurant with both brands in the same fountain, but it is definitely unconventional," says Amber Hensley, whose firm handles communications for the 240-location sandwich chain. Potbelly opened its first Seattle store in 2011.
The new "Potbelly Choice" program, which debuted locally last week at the chain's new Renton store, centers on a soda fountain stocked with Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper products. "We (also) continue to expand our beverage cooler offerings," adds David Maki-Waller, Potbelly's market manager for Seattle and Portland.
Most restaurants sign with one company because an exclusive deal comes with equipment, explains Corby Casler of Coca-Cola. But Potbelly is pursuing a convenience store-style model, in which the machines aren't provided by the beverage maker. Casler says the format is rarely seen in conjunction with "really good food."
"It's highly unusual for us," Casler says. "We're happy Coke is still available to Potbelly customers."
PepsiCo didn't return messages seeking comment.
Although Coca-Cola controls about 70 percent of the nation's fountain soda business, PepsiCo has been valiantly competing for more restaurant contracts: The company last year landed exclusive deals with IHOP, Applebee's and Papa John's.
While "Potbelly Choice" is likely to make more difference to loyal fans of certain soft drinks than the companies which produce them, the shared arrangement could create a small opening for Pepsi, since Potbelly previously carried only Coke products in its fountains. "Literally in the cola wars, they are fighting not for every case but for every ounce," John Sicher, publisher of Beverage Digest, told the New York Times when the IHOP/Applebee's deal was announced.
"Potbelly Choice" will be rolled out next month at all Seattle locations.