Nicole Tanner co-founded Swig, a St. George, Utah-based drive-through "dirty soda" fountain, with her husband, Todd, in 2010. Over the next seven years, they grew the business into a 17-store chain, before selling it to Four Foods Group.
How did you get the idea for a drive-through that sells flavored sodas?
My husband and I would go to Sonic because we just wanted a good fountain drink, with the pebble ice and the Styrofoam cup to keep it cool. Then my husband spent a day sitting outside a service station and counting how many people walked out with just fountain drinks. It was astounding. So now we sell about 20 named specialty drinks. We have about 25 syrups you can add to any drink, and seven or eight fruit purées. We can also add vanilla cream or coconut cream. It is delicious, I tell you--a coconut cream in a Diet Coke.
What's your bestseller? And what's your favorite?
The bestseller is the Raspberry Dream. That's a Dr Pepper with raspberry purée and coconut cream on top. My favorite is the Big Al. That's Diet Coke with coconut syrup and fresh lime.
When did you start thinking about expansion?
Our second location was a mile from our first. We did it mainly to relieve the lines. But that's when investors first came in. That let us step outside and focus on future stores. In 2015, we started to think about franchising, because by then we had competitors. We knew we needed to get more Swig stores out there.
What will your new role be?
I am going to focus on customer service. We grew so fast that the stores weren't all getting the support they deserved. We're making sure the inventory is good and the customers are receiving good service. I'm doing a lot of that now, and slowly other people will be stepping in.
Would this have worked anywhere but Utah?
I really think Swig is the Utah substitute for coffee. But we heard from people all over the country who wanted franchises.
Why did you decide not to franchise and to sell the company instead?
The more we got into it, the more franchising made us nervous. It's hard to control your brand and make sure the style and the service stay the same. I had a friend at the gym who knew Andrew Smith at Four Foods Group, and suggested we talk with him. We just went to him for advice. But we liked him so much that last summer we decided to partner with the company. The merger closed on December 1.