Category Archives: Your Seltzer Stories

Minnesota Seltzer

I received this email from a reader in Minnesota who was interested in figuring out why everything came with such different names:

about canada dry seltzer – they now call it canada dry sparkling seltzer water. at least they do here in minnesota. since sparkling water and seltzer water are different (i thought) it is confusing. what is canada dry seltzer called in NYC?? I grew up in Brooklyn and had seltzer delivery via H. Myerowitz. my recall is that the seltzer man disappeared along with the milk man about 1969. I understand seltzer delivery with glass siphon bottles is making a comeback. Here in the minneapolis area, it has been a struggle getting seltzer tho you can find just about any carbonated water from run of the mill club soda to sparkling water to european import mineral waters. Finally a local supermrket started carerying Boylan seltzer. Then a local supermarket chain started carrying a house brand seltzer. Canada Dry sparkling seltzer water is available flavored only. and again, the sparkling and seltzer refs confuse me. I also know of Schweppes and Polar seltzer brands but not out here. real seltzer has a crisper taste– no sodium– and a different carbonation. thank you

My Interview with the Original Gimme Seltzer!

What is your name, where do you live, and how would you life be different without seltzer?
My name is Michael Har-Even, born in the USA and now living in Jerusalem. Post-university I moved from Boston to Manhattan, kicked around for a while, and then hooked up with a friend, Steven Drucker, to start a seltzer business, which we called Gimme Seltzer. For the two of us it was the right thing in the right place at the right time. It gave us a chance to strike out on our own, do something fun and offbeat, but at the same time make a living and learn a lot about business and people. Here I can’t get good old real seltzer—and I definitely miss it.
Steven and I are still friends after being in business together and live a few streets from each other here in Jerusalem. I think we started the business in 1978. I left the States at the end of 1982. Steven kept at it a bit longer, I guess to the mid-80’s, and then sold it.
Where did the name of the company come from?
The name of the company was, of course, a take-off on the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter (it’s just a shot away). The name just popped up when we were brainstorming and we stopped right then and there. A couple of rock & roll kids were clearly going to use that one.
How does it feel that, a generation later, I came upon similar inspiration for my book project on seltzer?
Seltzer is history. It’s old time class from black and white movies. Laughs from Three Stooges and burlesque routines. Guys hauling cases through the Lower East Side. I grew up with seltzer delivery in suburban America. Yet, by the time my partner and I took it up, seltzer was dying out. All but a couple of the New York bottling plants had shut down.
To buy bottles, which hadn’t been made since World War II, we had to do detective work hunting down retired seltzermen who had cases in their basements and garages. The old timers—both the retired ones as well as the few that were still plying their trade—welcomed us (they thought we were crazy, but they welcomed us). They were happy to have someone to whom to pass the torch.
I’m pleased that a younger generation is taking an interest, but, in a sense, I’m not surprised. It keeps coming back.
How long did you run the business for? What made you start it and what made you sell it?
My partner and I ran the business together for four or five years. After that, I sold my half of the business to him and moved to Israel. He hooked up with our main competitor and eventually the two of them sold out to outsiders. My partner then moved to Israel, too.
Like I said, it seemed like a good thing for us to do at the time, being our own bosses, having fun, getting involved with a feel-good product. Of course, we had no idea if it would click, but it did.
America was into all things retro at the time, as well as health, and we fit right in. We were written up all over the place, including a full page story in the New York Times. Our delivery van, with a bright mural painted on its side, was recognized all over town. I still look on all of that as a very special experience.
What was your favorite part about running New York City seltzer business?
My favorite part, without a doubt, was the people. We had customers from all walks of life, from hoity toity Upper East Side where the doormen sniffed at us as they sent us around to the service entrance, to fourth floor tenement walk-ups. Pretty much any profession you can imagine. It was New York. Everybody with their own story, their own foibles, their own hassles, and their own laughs.
Out on the streets doing deliveries, we were right there with the doormen, the cabbies, the cops. Everybody added something to the experience. The crew at the bottling plant. The few old timer seltzermen.
I remember to this day a conversation I had with one of them—a guy named Bernie, may he rest in peace. We were trading stories about dealing with Manhattan traffic and squeezing through narrow, double-parked streets with our vans. “No problem,” he said. “I get as close as I can on my side of the van and God takes care of the other side.” I take that as my philosophy of life—straight from a seltzerman.

An Egg Cream Bar Mitzvah

Below is a lovely story shared by Joan Sussman about replacing an open bar with Egg Creams!

I used to schlep cases of glass seltzer bottles up from my cousin in NJ who had it delivered by Joy Beverage
I heard your presentation at Ahavath Sholom and it got me thinking that the last time I had seltzer in glass bottles
was 10 years ago when we brought up 10 cases of seltzer for my son’s bar mitzvah. We decided against serving liquor
as getting a liquor license for the day was exorbitant, we only had wine for kiddush and served seltzer mixed drinks.
We also served egg creams, It was a hit! No one missed an open bar. I thought just the kids would want egg creams but alas
everyone wanted them. Kept running out of chocolate syrup & milk and the bartender kept running out, literally,
for milk & chocolate syrup.

Welcome Pittsburgh Seltzer Work!

I heard today by email from JS of the new Pittsburgh Seltzer Works. Well, new because he just took it over last December, even though it’s been around since 1898. He wrote:
“We still operate a siphon seltzer bottling works here in the steel city. If you ever come across any of the old equipment…bottlers, carbonators, etc…please let me know…folks are enjoying the hand-bottled seltzer, but to keep them happy we are constantly repairing all of the necessary machines. Thanks for the site…it is great…and has been bookmarked for continued reading later. Cheers.”
I am fascinated to learn about a new seltzer bottler, rather than ones going out of business, and look forward to interviewing him for the book.
You can not only learn more on their facebook page but also see how they are using modern technology to build relationships with their customers. This is certainly seltzer for the 21st Century.

No Substitute For the Real Thing

Below is a great email I recently received:

My paternal grandfather, Benjamin Letowsky, owned a seltzer route in Brooklyn from the 1930s to the mid-1940s. My uncle, Jack Letowsky followed in his footsteps and probably was in business until mid-1950s. I recall that their truck was their pride. The seltzer works they used was Brooklyn based, but I can’t recall the name. The bottles had the name LETOW etched on to them and were, of course, manufactured in Czechoslovakia. They were mostly blue and white with a few green mixed in. I have only 1 or 2 of them in my possession for memory. If I recall correctly they also sold Cott’s soda and U-bet syrups. They frequently complained of sore shoulders and bad backs and had helpers until the seltzer business started to fade. To this day there is no substitute for the real thing – a siphon freshly filled!
Norman D. Letow, NYC

A nice email from a seltzerman

I got an email today that I enjoyed and though I would pass on:

I found your website – not sure if i have any stories but i was a seltzerman – a real one –

my family started in Asbury Park NJ – 1906 – we filled and distributed seltzer – real seltzer trucks.

of course Fox’s U-bet Choc syrup also distributed dr browns celray, Hammer Beverages.

Bought seltzer bottles from Bronx Siphon Supplies – if you have any questions about seltzer.

maybe I may have interesting insight.

Hope to hear from you.

Morton Popok – many times I called out seltzerman!

by the way seltzer is in my blood

Wasn’t that lovely. In a follow-up email her reported:

have you been to a seltzer station
Gomberg? at one time all the ny seltzermen had their bottles filled their – I of course did not
because we filled are own bottles – at one time we use the single foot machine that you have pictured on
your site – one bottle at a time, then we found a automatic syphon filler – it must have been 50 years old –
schlepped it back to the jersey shore – it was heavy – came from downtown Pitt Street.