‘I've always had a mania about cola. I'd traveled around the world to drink all kinds of cola, but then, when I was 22 years old, I found a secret recipe on the internet. I suddenly thought: maybe I can make cola by myself.
‘I started to make it in my very small kitchen in my flat. At the time, I was working at an advertising agency. I'd make my cola every night after work. I was experimenting and making loads of different types. I bought the right ingredients at a supermarket – like cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla and lemon – and used just a small pan and normal kitchen equipment.
‘After many attempts – like 200 or 300 – I just couldn't make delicious cola. It wasn't that bad, but not very good. I almost gave up.’
‘My grandfather was a pharmacist and practiced old Japanese-style medicine. When he died, I went back to my home town and we talked about our memories of him. I was inspired by the way he processed medicine. I went home and used some of his methods to make my cola. After that, the flavor changed – it was much improved. The next day, I gave the drink to my co-worker. He said: “What a delicious drink – can you sell this to me?” I thought: maybe I can sell this product. I hadn't thought it was a valuable drink until my friend said he wanted to buy it.’
‘Because my grandfather was a medicine man, he had a small factory – about 30 square meters. It's not that big, but there was a lot of equipment for commercial use. So, I renovated the space from making medicine to becoming a cola factory. It took one or two months. Most of the ingredients I buy wholesale and from supermarkets, but kola nuts come from West Africa – Ghana or Nigeria. So, I went to Ghana to pick them up. While I was there, I found an exporter and started importing it from them.’
‘When I started to sell my cola, I was still working in an office. So, on the weekdays, I worked at the company and then, on the weekends, I would sell my cola. I used my savings to make the cola and then to buy a food truck.
‘After six months, I quit my job. It wasn't that hard of a decision because I thought: only I can make this cola in the world – whereas many people could do my job at the advertising agency.’
‘My grandfather collected many old labels from medicines, and I was inspired by them. So, a designer and I collaborated and designed the products. We have two types: the first is syrup and the other is ready to drink. The syrup was first and we sold it in a cheaper pouch.’
‘My friend worked as a used-car salesman, so I bought a used truck from him for ¥2 million [around $16,000]. My friend and I changed it into a food truck. It wasn't that difficult because my friend is good at carpentry and designing. Every Saturday and Sunday, I went to Aoyama farmers' market to sell my cola – it's the biggest in Tokyo. We got very positive feedback. There were people from all over the world – some people had come from Sweden and Hawaii to drink our cola. I did the market for three years.’
‘The maximum price of a coin in Japan is ¥500 [$3] so, when I sold my cola at the farmers' markets, I thought I would keep it simple – one drink would be ¥500. And the price of syrup is ¥3,000 [$18], because you can make five or six drinks from one pouch of syrup.’
Getting the word out
‘The food truck has been very important – it's like an advertisement. In addition, I wrote a letter to a magazine company and it made an issue about my cola. We always sold our cola online but, in 2019, we opened our first store. The split between selling online and in store is almost equal.’
A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 47, June/July 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.