Advertisement
  1. Life & Culture
  2. /
  3. Food

Lutz deli has carried hundreds of soda flavors for 30 years

Subs -N- Such’s selection includes soft drinks like Kitty Piddle and Unicorn Yack.
Jimmy Thibeault, left, and Scott Mercer, both of Tampa, sink into their sandwiches while eating lunch at Subs -N- Such in Lutz. The restaurant has become known for its selection of more than 250 varieties of sodas, which range from birch beer and sarsaparilla to Cheer-wine and RC Cola.
Jimmy Thibeault, left, and Scott Mercer, both of Tampa, sink into their sandwiches while eating lunch at Subs -N- Such in Lutz. The restaurant has become known for its selection of more than 250 varieties of sodas, which range from birch beer and sarsaparilla to Cheer-wine and RC Cola. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 15|Updated Feb. 16

LUTZ — John Lockhart has a confession to make.

He’s guilty of false advertising.

The menu for his Subs -N- Such claims the Lutz sandwich shop has over 400 different sodas in stock, making it the “home of the world’s largest soft drink selection.”

That was once true.

But, due to supply chain issues, gas prices and other factors, the selection has dropped to “only more than 250,” Lockhart said with a laugh. “Maybe I need to update the menu.”

Still, Lockhart’s soda vendor says Subs -N- Such at 14603 Livingston Ave. has the largest selection for a sandwich shop in the Southeast.

But such boasts are not why Subs -N- Such stocks up on soda, Lockhart said. “We do this because our customers enjoy it.”

Gina Micciche visits with John Lockhart, owner of Subs-N-Such, while manager Matthew Booth, center, prepares a sandwich.
Gina Micciche visits with John Lockhart, owner of Subs-N-Such, while manager Matthew Booth, center, prepares a sandwich. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The sandwich shop’s selection includes stalwarts like Coke, harder to find brands like RC Cola and Orange Crush, and bizarrely named flavors like Kitty Piddle and Unicorn Yack, neither of which contain real cat urine or one-horned horse vomit, Lockhart promised.

All bottled sodas cost $2.99.

“We have weird things like banana-flavored and spruce beer, which tastes like a Christmas tree smells,” Lockhart said. “But they all taste pretty good. I don’t carry anything that I wouldn’t drink.”

Most are bottled and made with real sugar rather than canned and made with high fructose corn syrup because “they taste better that way,” Lockhart said.

Customer favorites include Vernors Ginger Soda.

“We were out of Vernors for months,” Lockhart said, “and when we got it back in stock, I called several customers, and they came in and bought it all.”

Another is Moxie.

“It has a medicinal aftertaste,” he said. “It’s an acquired taste. But it’s one of the oldest soft drinks made. So, a lot of people grew up on it.”

Childhood and hometown memories are a key draw for many of the sodas they offer, Lockhart said. “We have a little slogan here: ‘Take a sip down memory lane.’ Certain drinks remind us of things.”

That drink is Dr Pepper for Lockhart.

Vintage soda signs mingle with DVDs and special-edition soda bottleson  a wall at Subs -N- Such in Lutz.
Vintage soda signs mingle with DVDs and special-edition soda bottleson a wall at Subs -N- Such in Lutz. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The 60-year-old was raised in Fort Worth, Texas, which is a 90-minute drive from Dublin, once home to that soft drink’s oldest bottling plant.

Dig in to Tampa Bay’s food and drink scenes

Dig in to Tampa Bay’s food and drink scenes

Subscribe to our free Taste newsletter

Get the restaurant and bar news, insights and reviews you crave from food and dining critic Helen Freund every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

“For one week every year, Dublin renamed the city Dr Pepper,” Lockhart said. “My grandmother lived in Dublin, and we visited her a lot, so I grew up on Dr Pepper.”

He relocated to the Tampa area in 1986 and purchased Subs -N- Such three years later.

Lockhart originally served fountain drinks, but customers complained that the paper cups got too soggy.

“I figured we could get cans,” he said. “And then I picked up a case of Diet Dr Pepper and people were like, ‘Wow, we don’t usually get this at restaurants.’”

Customers began frequenting his establishment for Diet Dr Pepper, so he purchased every soda flavor at the nearby grocery story. More customers came.

Related: In Tampa, original home of The Hub to be razed

“And then I happened to drive to Texas to visit my grandparents,” Lockhart said. “I saw a drink called Big Red. I bought some cases. Well, people went nuts because you couldn’t get that here. I realized I was on to something.”

While on road trips, he’d buy cases of whatever sodas were unique to the areas through which he drove. Friends, family, employees and loyal customers did the same.

“I started taking road trips just to look for new ones,” he said.

Gina Micciche searches a cooler for a soda while grabbing a lunch at Subs -N- Such in Lutz.
Gina Micciche searches a cooler for a soda while grabbing a lunch at Subs -N- Such in Lutz. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Subs -N- Such’s selection rose to nearly 500, Lockhart said, giving him the confidence by the early 1990s to proclaim it the largest in the world.

“I traveled a lot and never saw anyone with that many,” he said.

But that number dwindled when the sandwich shop stopped carrying a large selection of diet brands.

“Diets have a shorter shelf life,” Lockhart said. “We found out the hard way when we ended up throwing a lot away.”

That decision likely dropped his business’ soft drink selection behind Rocket Fizz, the chain store specializing in soda and candy. But that franchise makes many of its soft drinks, whereas Subs -N- Such seeks to provide customers with flavors from around the nation, Lockhart said.

Recently, Lockhart also suspended regular road trips due to high gas prices.

What’s more, he said, supply chain issues have hurt the soda industry. “Even flavored Mountain Dews are hard to find.”

Those economic factors have probably stripped Subs -N- Such of as many as 50 flavors, Lockhart estimates.

A large soda bottle is used to display bottle caps at Subs -N- Such at the sandwich shop in Lutz.
A large soda bottle is used to display bottle caps at Subs -N- Such at the sandwich shop in Lutz. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Still, Subs -N- Such’s selection remains large due to the kindness of others and a local distributor.

“One of my ex-employees was coming back from Georgia and brought a load of cherry-flavored Ale-8, which we can’t get here,” Lockhart said.

And Tampa-based Bay’s Best Beverages provides Subs -N- Such with up to “350 varieties of glass bottle sodas” from which to choose, manager of distribution and sales Ben Lange said. “We search the internet for new sodas and if they’re good we add them to our warehouse.”

Lange said he delivers soda as far north as Alabama. “As far as a sandwich shop goes, I have not seen someone with a better selection” than Subs -N- Such.

And if Subs -N- Such doesn’t have what a customer wants, Lockhart said he will do his best to find it.

“All a customer has to do is ask,” he said. “If the soft drink is important to them, it’s important to us.”

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge