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Manhattan Special: something old that's definitely new.

Manhattan Special: Something old that's definitely new

This description sounds like it would apply to a new guy on the coffee soda block, but that's not quite right. Manhattan Special is probably the oldest coffee soda around. It won a Gold Medal Award in Rome, Italy in 1925, the company itself began production in 1885, and the Passaro family has been involved in the sales and production of the soda for over 80 years.

Mike Garavuso was the original founder of Manhattan Special and Louis Passaro was his largest distributor. When Garavuso passed away, the company went to his daughter Lillian. Manhattan Special was a family business to the Passaro family too. Louis was joined by his brother and Louis' young son Al.

When Lillian Garavuso decided to sell the business, Al bought it and when he passed away several years ago, his children, Aurora and Louis, took over, continuing the family tradition.

Aurora and Louis are president and vice president of Manhattan Special Bottling Company. They are 27 and 25, respectively, and if you think they are young now, they were 19 and 17 when they took over the business.

Aurora and Louis grew up at Manhattan Special Bottling Company; they both worked at the plant when they were children. They made up boxes, generally kept busy, and did whatever their Dad asked them to do. They might be young, but the responsibility of continuing the tradition is very important to them.

They are both admitted coffee lovers and qualify as coffee fanatics when it comes to Manhattan Special. Aurora told me a little about the process. "We grind the coffee and process it in a machine that is like a big version of the `macchinetta' (a.k.a. Neopolitan, a type of drip coffee brewer associated with Naples). After we brew the coffee, we process it and make our own extract; there is nothing artificial about our product, it's made from real coffee. It's old fashioned but it gives the best taste." Manhattan Special bottles other sodas but the Coffee Soda accounts for roughly 75% of their sales, and their overall sales are inching up into the millions of bottles a year.

Aurora and Louis handle the growing business by dividing up their responsibilities; she handles administrative duties and he runs all outside operations. When you talk to both of them about the business, you can feel the pride eminating in their voice as they talk about the longevity of the business. Louis told me that some of their customers have been with them for over 50 years; they are now dealing with some of the original customer's children and grandchildren.

Manhattan Special has a loyal following in the ethnic neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn, it's been around forever. And it's popular year round, all day long. It's good hot or cold, with ice cream and also with Kahlua or Bailey's. A friend of mine told me that when he wants to serve something special to guests, he takes champagne flutes, fills them with crushed ice, adds sweet cream and pours a Manhattan Special into the flute from about twelve inches above the glass so it gets a good head of foam. He then serves the drink, and takes in the compliments.

Although Manhattan Special is a deep-rooted tradition in New York, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn, it is not widely known across the U.S. (yet). I stumbled across it by accident a few years ago. I saw it in a catalogue, my curiosity was aroused, and so I called the plant. Just by accident, I talked to Stan Weiner who was general manager at the time. Stan sent me a sample of Manhattan Special, and I was forever spoiled; any other coffee soda will taste like an imitation.

If you don't like coffee, you can forget about this soda, try one of the imitators. Talk about a burst of coffee flavor, a Manhattan Special is a wonderful explosion in your mouth. When you drink one, you feel as if a balloon is inflated above your head as in comic strips and words like "Pow" and "Zing" are appearing above your head.

I developed a healthy addiction to Manhattan Specials and a special friendship with Stan. We talked every few months and he had a special place in my heart. I'd try to teach him Southern expressions and laugh as I'd hear his thick New York accent try to grapple with words like "ya'll". He'd sign his letters to me "King" and send me funny cards with gorillas. Our conversations were always the highlight of my day.

Stan is gone now, he passed away, and I didn't even get to tell him goodbye. So goodbye Stan, we'll always remember your humor, your warmth and that awful cigar. Thanks for everything.

For more information, contact: Manhattan Special Bottling Co., 342 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211, Tel: (718) 388-4144.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:coffee-flavored soda bottled by Manhattan Special Bottling Co.
Author:Strurdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:820
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