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April 19, 2009

Galcos Old World Grocery: Soda Pop Heaven

One of the beauties of visiting my father in Los Angeles is in between visits he discovers an assortment of things he would like to share with me. He knows I love beverages of all kinds. He knows I love kitschy Americana. This time he was very enthusiastic about bringing me to Galco's Old World Grocery (5702 York Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90042) in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles.

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Galco's has a significant history. It began as an Italian market in Downtown L.A. nearly a century ago in what was then Little Italy and has now become Chinatown. The store has changed locations a few times before settling in its current location at the corner of York and Avenue 57 in Highland Park, 51 years ago.

Owner John Nese credits PepsiCo for helping transition the store from a traditional grocery into what it is today. PepsiCo wanted to buy a large portion of Galco's shelving space to be stocked exclusively with PepsiCo product. The PepsiCo sales representative told the grocer that if they did not sell PepsiCo the shelving space that other PepsiCo brands, such as FritoLay and Tropicana, would not be as easily available. To Nese it strongly stank of blackmail and sent the PepsiCo salesperson packing. Nese realized from that moment that he owned his shelf space and could do with it what he wanted. He decided to stock his selves with a variety of independent beverage products.

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When you first enter Galco's you are confronted by the fact that Galco's looks like a run-down supermarket. What once must have been a super market inoculated with a few bottles of soda pop had gone terribly cancerous: there is now soda pop everywhere. Every shelf, every bit of available floor space. The only exceptions are an open freezer case filled with candy nostalgia and the back sections of the store which are devoted to independent brews of beer and Japanese sake. Don't let the dust deter you: Nese will tell you that soda in glass has a shelf life of two years. Plastic? Two months.

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Galco's also makes sandwiches. Even the sandwiches carry a heavy air of nostalgia (sans the dust). My father told me the thing to order was "The Original, double meat." What you get is a hero sandwich stacked with cold cuts and pickles. Nese was quick to come over to our table to inform us that even their bread is different, "its not massed produced in pans but hearth baked; can you tell? The bread isn't chewy like pan baked bread."

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The sandwiches are passable. They aren't exactly epicurean delights but they are not terrible either. Once you've been told you can tell that the bread is hearth baked. But cold cuts and pickles are cold cuts and pickles. It's hard to parade them around as an undiscovered cuisine. What we really came for was the soda.

I enjoyed a delicious Fentiman's Curiosity Cola. Curiosity Cola is surprisingly complex with strong notes of kola nut, cloves, and cinnamon. It's a grown up cola and completely delicious. It turned my Galco's meal into a banquet.

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If you fall in love with a soda discovery at Galco's they have a shipping area that is ready to accommodate you. I found everybody at Galco's to be more than pleasant and helpful. Everybody was willing to thrown in their suggestions on what to try and recommended their personal favorites. If you ever had a soda pop history question, the owner was more than willing to spin you a tale.

I ended up leaving Galco's with two cases of soda and a collection of candies. I'm so happy the weather in LA has been good for running.

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