By Carolina Fojo, East Coast Fellow, Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation
The history of Tower Root Beer is one of growth, success, loss, and rebirth. It begins in Boston, 1914, when Italian Immigrant Domenick Cusolito decided that root beer was going to be his family’s ticket in the United States. Domenick took an old recipe and tweaked it, creating what the company now calls “root beer with an Italian spin.”
The secret? Replacing vanilla with anisette — a liqueur that gives the root beer a slight licorice aftertaste.
The business started out small, with Domenick, and then grew as he passed it on to his three sons (after World War II). By the 1950’s, Tower Root Beer was up to 160,000 cases a year. (This article by Genevieve Rajewski has even more details of Tower Root Beer’s history.) The root beer became a family favorite in the Boston area. One customer commented, “My grandfather used to put chocolate ice cream in a glass of Tower Root Beer for me every time I came in his back door!”
But as Tower Root Beer grew, so did other companies in the soft-drink industry, and by the 1970s the big soda makers had elbowed Tower Root Beer out of the market. After 60 years of business, Tower Root Beer shut down, and was not seen again.
Nearly 30 years after Tower Root Beer stopped producing, Domenick Cusolito’s granddaughter, Carolyn Cusolito-Tavares, and her brother, Larry Cusolito, got an itching to see if the old family business could make a comeback. But there was just one problem: the original recipe was nowhere to be found. So for 10 years the dream remained dormant as the location of the original recipe remained a mystery.
Then one day, Carolyn was rummaging through a pile of “family history stuff” that she’d been putting off organizing, and in that pile she came across an envelope with her grandmother’s birth certificate. And in that envelope, she found a folded note with a root beer recipe on it — written in her grandfather’s handwriting.
The family was elated, although as they quickly learned, it wasn’t the end of their road. It still took several months, a hunt for the root beer’s original concentrate manufacturer, and successfully getting a bottling company to jump on board…but, finally, Tower Root Beer was back in the soda business.
Of the company’s revival, Larry says, “The best thing about Tower Root Beer is that everyone who remembers it has a great memory of it. It’s a really positive thing. Someone will tell you ‘My dad used to go to the store Saturday night and get a bag of cheese curls and a bottle of Tower Root Beer and sit with me and my sisters and watch a move.’ Those kinds of stories make you feel good.”
Us too! Bon Appétit cafés in the Boston area, including Lesley College, Emmanuel College, and MIT, are now proud to serve Tower Root Beer as a Farm to Fork artisan suplier.