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ARCHIVED  November 1, 1996

Entrepreneur recaptures flavor of Cheyenne’s past with Sarsaparilla drink

CHEYENNE – Dr. Clyde Farris remembers growing up in a time when Saturday matinee movie cowboys would walk into a saloon and say, “Make Mine Sarsaparilla.”So much so that now he’s recreating that old-time taste for a new generation with Cheyenne Sarsaparilla, a root beer-like drink that was a favorite during Cheyenne Frontier Days with its distinctive 100th anniversary Frontier Days label.
“I’ve always been a root beer fanatic myself, and for about 10 years I’ve had the idea to make a root beer drink with an old fashioned Western flair,´ said Farris, an Oregon orthopedic surgeon who grew up in Wyoming and practiced in Cody and Cheyenne.
“I got the idea when I was in Cody, and I thought about it and thought about it, and finally I decided to do it,” he said. “There’s no word like Cheyenne that brings out the image of the Old West, and I was living in Cheyenne at the time and thought ‘Cheyenne Sarsaparilla’ would be the ideal name for it.”
The key to Cheyenne Sarsaparilla is in the herbs – and the taste comes through because Farris as “wrangler and brew master” uses less vanilla than in popular super market root beers.
“Sarsaparilla and root beer are almost identical, the difference being primarily that sarsaparilla has a little bit of birch bark oil in it that gives it a little bit more tangy flavor,” he explained.
After several years of developing just the right taste, Cheyenne Sarsaparilla was first bottled in St. Louis two years ago, but Farris wasn’t quite satisfied with the results. His second batch was bottled closer to home in Denver, and the taste was much more to his liking. “The second bottling we finally got it right,” he said.
Cheyenne Sarsaparilla is something between a hobby and a real job for Farris. He still has his day job as a doctor in Tualatin, Ore., a suburb of Portland, but he dreams of spending more time spreading the joys of birch bark brew to a new generation.
“I’d love to come back to Wyoming and manage it full-time,” he said, adding that his greatest satisfaction has been creating a new product that didn’t exist two years ago, a product with “a Western flare and a flavor that I like at least.”
But just offering that flavor to consumers has been a bit of a battle – and a real education into the cutthroat competition between big-time soft-drink sellers who dominate the shelves of local stores.
“The bigger outfits are somewhat predatory and do their best to discourage distributors from handling competing products, even minuscule products like Cheyenne Sarsaparilla,” he said.
Beverage-producers are expected to buy “shelf slots” in stores, paying “princely sums” of up to $5,000 a store, something that Farris has declined to do out of principle.
“It’s a real roadblock to a struggling young company,” he said. “If it isn’t illegal, it should be.”
Still, every entrepreneur in the beverage business dreams of becoming the next successful independent like “Snapple” or “Clearly Canadian” and grabbing their own market niche.
Farris would love to do that with Cheyenne Sarsaparilla, not only in Cheyenne but throughout Wyoming, the Front Range and the West.
Cheyenne Sarsaparilla’s first bottling run in St. Louis was 5,000 cases, the second in Denver was 3,000 cases, or nearly 200,000 bottles combined.
“If we ever get successful, we’ll open up our own bottling plant and do it right here, but there’s a tremendous capital investment to get a bottling plant going, so we’ve got to create demand first,” he said.
Cheyenne Sarsaparilla is marketed throughout Cheyenne and at selected locations in Laramie and other Wyoming communities, Fort Collins and Denver, and even Branson, Mo. But Farris hopes to expand into larger markets, including Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Phoenix and even Texas and the Southwest.
“Cheyenne’s a great town, but if everybody in town drank a bottle a day, it still wouldn’t be enough to keep us going,” he joked. “We need to get out into the bigger population centers.”
So far, Farris hasn’t recouped his initial six-figure investment. “It’s certainly been more expensive than I anticipated,” he conceded. “I put about twice as much into it as I promised my wife.”
But like entrepreneurs everywhere, he believes the break-even point is just around the corner, and he is hopeful that by next Frontier Days, a whole new generation will be enjoying the daddy of all root beers and the “spirit of the Old West you can still taste.”
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CHEYENNE – Dr. Clyde Farris remembers growing up in a time when Saturday matinee movie cowboys would walk into a saloon and say, “Make Mine Sarsaparilla.”So much so that now he’s recreating that old-time taste for a new generation with Cheyenne Sarsaparilla, a root beer-like drink that was a favorite during Cheyenne Frontier Days with its distinctive 100th anniversary Frontier Days label.
“I’ve always been a root beer fanatic myself, and for about 10 years I’ve had the idea to make a root beer drink with an old fashioned Western flair,´ said Farris, an Oregon orthopedic surgeon who grew up…

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