Pop Culture

94 years ago on a plot of land in East Haven, Matteo Naclerio was deciding between starting a funeral home or a beverage factory. He chose the latter, and iconic local soda pop-maker Foxon Park Beverages was born.

The soda came a bit later, though. To start, the company bottled and sold spring water, fresh from a spring onsite. The soda trade only began in the late 1920s, after water sales had flagged. “During the Great Depression, people could not afford to spend money on water,” explains Jay Brancati, husband of Matteo’s great granddaughter and a utility player at Foxon. “[Matteo] decided to make the soda to give them more for their money,” including free bottles with regular water orders. Soon, the demand for the company’s soda eclipsed the demand for its spring water, and the business was retooled to meet it. The closest thing to straight water still produced by Foxon Park is its Seltzer “flavor,” one of more than a dozen total.

Since it began, the company has stayed in East Haven and in the Naclerio family, now run by Anthony Naclerio, Matteo’s grandson. Still in its original location on Foxon Boulevard, less than a mile east of the New Haven/East Haven border, the factory is unassuming enough to miss if you’re not paying close attention (I wasn’t), though it does have a small canopy above the front door with Foxon’s old-timey logo painted in white on red, matching the emblem on the vintage-looking delivery truck that’s often parked nearby.

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For an operation producing up to 20,000 bottles a day, the interior of the factory feels small. Foxon’s lived-in metal-and-rubber assembly line pretty well fills the space. During my visit, steam rose from the machinery, making close quarters feel closer.

With only one flavor of soda bottled and boxed at a time, unintended mixing isn’t much of a danger. When one variety is finished, its particular spring water/syrup mix is flushed, then replaced with the next flavor, five or six of which are produced daily. “Anthony oversees every batch of soda that’s made here every single day,” Brancati says. “We have one guy that loads the bottles into the machine, then it gets bottled, capped and put into boxes. Simple as that.”

Foxon Park’s sodas are unusual for being sweetened with cane and beet sugar instead of refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and for offering some unique varieties. Besides well-executed standards like Root Beer and Ginger Ale, the company maintains classic yet hard-to-find sodas like Pineapple and Cherry.

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Three signature flavors play a substantial role in the company’s continued place in soda-drinkers’ hearts. One of them is the Iron Brew, a concoction inspired by the Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru, often called “The Other National Drink of Scotland” (besides Scotch whiskey). Both the original and the twist are non-alcoholic, though, unlike its orange overseas counterpart, Foxon Park’s is an ale-like amber. A mix of other Foxon flavors including Root Beer, Cherry, Cream Soda and “Kola” (Foxon’s chosen spelling), it’s definitely tastier than Irn-Bru.

Another is the “Gassosa,” an Italian lemon-lime soda that goes best with a white clam apizza. It’s sweetened with cane sugar, but not much—closer to San Pellegrino than 7-Up. According to staff, the Gassosa is the company’s most famous variety.

But the White Birch, mixing savory with sweet, is Foxon’s top seller and a regional favorite. Alaskan birch tree flavor imbues it with a touch of refreshing wintergreen.

Naclerio offers hints as to why Foxon Park and apizza are often associated with each other by locals. “My grandfather was an Italian immigrant, living on Chapel Street near Wooster Street. He knew all the families in the area.” Since the elder Naclerio and the neighborhood pizzeria owners had a common identity, language and commitment to high standards, it was sensible that they should do business. From Sally’s and Pepe’s, the sodas spread to local delis and markets to regional ones to, presently, the internet. Foxon Park’s website sells all the flavors, available in 12-ounce glass bottles and one-liter plastic ones, plus branded hats, tees, hoodies, mugs and pint glasses.

Representing a small, scrappy, local outfit with heart and history—and, of course, some highly regarded soft drinks—Foxon’s is a logo even anti-brand label types can feel fizzy wearing.

Foxon Park Beverages
103 Foxon Blvd, East Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm, Sat 8:30am-2pm
(203) 467-7874

Written and photographed by Will Gardner. This story originally published on February 12, 2014.

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Will Gardner is a writer and instructor who has written for The Portland Mercury, The Stranger and the Dallas Observer. He relocated to New Haven two years ago and has already visited 53 of Connecticut's State Parks, and refuses to move until he sees them all. He also has an unhealthy obsession with the Bee Gees.

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