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Mokena-based Route 66 Sodas heads to the Oscars

Actor Beau Bridges (middle) poses for a photo with Sandor Brattstrom (left) and Alan Bruggeman, two partners in Route 66 Sodas, headquartered in Mokena. Photo Submitted

The average Oscars viewer probably thinks of a few things when considering the concept of the Academy Awards.

Glitz, for instance, with any number of flashing bulbs catching a well-placed sequin. Glamor, with all the celebrities dressed up in the finest, most expensive dresses and tuxedos.

But there is a third “G” phrase that made even more sense for a Mokena-based business: gifting suites.

Route 66 Sodas, a company headquartered in Mokena that sells six different flavors of its soda, was invited to the Celebrity Connected gifting suites honoring the Academy Awards at the Biltmore Hotel Feb. 25, the day before the 89th Oscars were presented.

Alan Bruggeman and Laura Golden, a married couple who are residents of Mokena and are responsible for managing the company, were among the group representing Route 66 Sodas at the gifting suites to gain some brand awareness and mingle with the stars.

Route 66 Sodas manager Alan Bruggeman (left) poses with Kevin Sorbo, of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” fame, during the Celebrity Connected gifting suites honoring the Academy Awards at the Biltmore Hotel Feb. 25. Photos Submitted

Route to the Academy Awards

Route 66 Sodas has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1996 as a producer of just one beverage flavor, the flagship Route 66 Root Beer.

At that time, the man running the company started in Wilmington before moving the headquarters to Lebanon, Missouri, to be closer to where many of  Route 66 Sodas’ original customers — smaller, tourist-attractive businesses — were located.

When Golden and Bruggeman took over the main operations of the company in 2015, they moved the business to Mokena. Route 66 now has bottling companies and warehouses to store pop in Chicago, Albequerque and Scranton. And in the time since Route 66 Sodas’ launch in 1996, the company has expanded to six flavors, the most recent being a grape flavor that Golden designed last year.

The actual U.S. Route 66, one of the first interstate highways in the country, runs all the way from Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier in California. The company still sells its soda to many small stores along Route 66.

“Almost every Route 66 museum carries us throughout the eight states [through which U.S. Route 66 runs],” Golden said.

But the beverage company has also begun to reach distributors who send the soda to more far-reaching places.

“We’ve got a distributor in Europe, Canada, we send pop to China, we send pop to Australia,” Bruggeman said. “… We’ve got a new inquiry from Spain, Italy, Crete.” 

In addition to branching out around the world, Route 66 had the chance of a lifetime to branch out to a more glamorous place a little closer to home.

Manager Laura Golden (right) poses with Staz Nair, who plays Qhono on “Game of Thrones,” and Route 66’s 9-foot fiberglass bottle.

Sweet suites

The Academy Awards do not officially set up gifting suites, but third-party companies do. And there were plenty of celebrities on hand at the Celebrity Connected gifting suites to sample Route 66’s wares.

“What we did was we had little shot glasses that said Route 66, and we would offer them a drink of the soda,” Golden said.

But perhaps the biggest draw for Route 66 Sodas was its giant, 9-foot, fiberglass root beer bottle.

“They all wanted their picture taken with that, and we would chat it up about the company and go from there,” Golden said.

It was a bit of a hassle getting the giant bottle shipped to Los Angeles, and they had to pay their own way, but Golden and Bruggeman said it was worth it.

Golden said that one of her favorite moments was meeting the children who play the young versions of the adult characters on the television show “This Is Us.”

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Golden said.

Bruggeman said one of his favorite celebrities to meet was Kevin Sorbo, an actor best known for his work as Hercules in the 1990s television series “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” Bruggeman was pleased to take a photo with Sorbo. 

“[Sorbo is] standing there, and he’s pointing at me. So … we put out a caption, ‘Which one was Hercules?” Bruggeman said with a laugh.

Given where Route 66 Sodas began not so long ago, Bruggeman and Golden said that to be invited and gain the awareness from attending the gifting suites was right up there with their biggest accomplishments.

“It was fun to be there, and it was fun to get the recognition,” Bruggeman said.

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