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Dirty Diet Coke takes over Utah

“Straws” located at 7386 S. Union Park Avenue, is a specialty soda shop owned and operated by the Koch family. “My family was sitting around family dinner wishing we could have a really good Diet Coke and there wasn’t any place to get one,” Koch said. “So, I opened up a place where you could get a really good soda. The best, actually.” Photo by Marni Harbrecht.

People around the Salt Lake Valley are lining up for specialty mixed drinks at local soda shops, where popular pops are morphed into crowd favorites like “Dirty Diet Coke.”

Some think the popularity of such shops across Utah could be attributed to the state’s large population of religious individuals in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Straws in Midvale is one of the most accessible stores for Westminster College students like Avery Paul, who said she and her family frequent the shop.

Paul said places like Straws are to many LDS individuals what a bar is to people who want a cold beer after they get off work. Instead, many Utahns get their stiff Diet Coke with coconut and lime.

“I think that the LDS culture has played a huge role in these soda shops,” Paul said. “Since most LDS people don’t drink alcohol or coffee, they may turn to soda or other beverages to give them energy or even something to look forward to after a long day. The other part of LDS culture that these soda shops play into is the family culture. Many stay-at-home moms may feel this is a good way to get out of the house and feel like they’ve done something for themselves. It’s also just simply a fun family activity and it’s a cheap treat for huge Utah families.”

The owner of Straws, Tina Koch, started the business four years ago with her husband and children.

“My family was sitting around family dinner wishing we could have a really good Diet Coke and there wasn’t any place to get one,” Koch said. “So, I opened up a place where you could get a really good soda—the best, actually.”

Koch said she aims to provide customers with the best drinks in town.

“There was ‘Swig’ down in St. George and then there was me,” Koch said. “We have homemade cookies, soft pretzels [and] 100 percent fruit smoothies. We are a family-owned shop and we will always support small businesses. The other guys are franchising and going big, but we’re just sticking with our one cute little store.”

Employees at Straws are predominantly high school and college students, who look to create relationships with every customer, Koch said.

Some customers make a trip to get their fix every single day, and the store’s employees often become familiar with their orders and remember them by name.

Lexi Jack, who has worked at Straws for three years, said she knows customers’ orders, which maintains a small business relationship that keeps customers coming back.

“It makes me feel accomplished,” Jack said. “I don’t know. I feel like it’s really cool to know exactly what people want before I even have to take their order. It makes it easier for everyone.”

Paul said she has been going to Straws since the store opened and continues to support them.

“I live super close to Straws and I am a frequent visitor,” Paul said. “I seriously think my family has paid off the owner’s house with the amount of times we go there a week. There is obviously a demand for these types of places here and people just keep coming up with new locations with the new names for the exact same shop.”

Though Paul is a frequent visitor, she recognized that the amount of soda some customers consume may be a bit troublesome.

“The demand for these soda shops does kind of concern me,” Paul said. “I make fun of all the mommies guzzling their 44 oz. Diet Coke. But by the way things are looking, who knows? Maybe I will turn into one.”

Though there are many different versions of the same store, Koch still claims to be the best and said she is grateful for the customers who continue to support her business.

“We have the most amazing customers ever and we have a huge loyalty,” Koch said. “They come back and they support us well.”

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