Brothers Mark and Matt Seiler spent their childhood in Wilmington, and after moving away in high school returned every summer to Rehoboth Beach where much of their family still lives. Today they own and run Maine Root Inc., an award-winning/fast growing soft-drink company based in Austin, TX.
TownSquareDelaware: First, do you still host talent shows featuring costumed moped riders jumping over fire?
Matt: We do, but only on special occasions.
Mark: We use full-sized motorcycles now. I perform on a race prepped Honda Crf450X- with a factory connection suspension, flowed head, pro circuit cam, Steven Dietz signature devil pipe; I’d have to say she’s a real gravel scratcher. Matt rides a KTM.
TSD: So you are now the Root Beer Kings. What’s the story?
Matt: It all started in Portland Maine, where I was living after graduating from the Landing School of Boatbuilding and Design in Kennebunk Maine. The following summer, I was hired to restore a wooden boat on the working waterfront of Portland Harbor. As chance would have it, one of my college classmates was opening a wood fired organic pizza restaurant two wharfs down. I helped build the oven, and took a few shifts waiting tables at night after building boats. The menu featured natural and organic ingredients, but just did not have any natural beverages to match. I set to work using my home brewing equipment and came up with some recipes for a root beer. That first summer we sold more of my root beer than Coke at the restaurant. I began distributing the sodas in my VW to local restaurants.
As demand grew I needed some help with getting the product out, and was introduced to a distributor that ended up taking our sodas as far south as NYC.
Mark: Kings is a big word. I don’t think we’re kings, more like pikers. Matt and I are born and bred scrapple fed Delawareans. Slower and Lower in the summers. We’re sold in over 4,000 locations in 50 states, Canada, PR, and the UK. We’re ranked #1 fastest growing fair trade soft drink line by SPINS. I’d say we’re the biggest beverage ballers to come out of the 475 prefix, 19810 zip, but I could be wrong.
TSD: Let’s make sure I understand… you are selling a New England soda from Austin, TX – explain.
Matt: Yes, this happened because of this little store called Whole Foods we were selling our sodas to. We decided to talk to the people at their headquarters in Austin. Soon after, we were being sold nationally in their stores and had distribution nationwide.
Mark: Matt started Maine Root in Scarborough, Maine in a surfer shack in Higgins Beach brewing in a lobster pot, and delivering hand packed cases out of a VW Jetta converted to run on used vegetable oil. All of our bottled product is made in the brewery in Portland Maine. Our Kegs are made in Austin, and our soda fountain syrup operation is also in Austin. Fellow Delawarean Ron Shallhoup told me back in 1994 that I should live in Austin, so I listened to Ron. Ronster always knows what is best. I moved to Austin in 96 to sell computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing software to the burgeoning high tech industry. Dell Computer, Applied Materials, were some of my biggest customers. After a decade in the high tech world I was ready to take on a bigger challenge. I called Matt in Portland and told him to print up some biz cards that said VP of Sales, and to pick me up at the airport on Monday. I went on a bunch of sales calls and knew we had a hit. Then I packed up the car and went to Rehoboth where my mother and sister live to hone my sales pitch. I wanted to hear all the objections that could possibly come up. Growing up at the beach in the summers meant I knew most of the restaurant and bar owners . Long story short, we got a lot of new customers in a short time.
TSD: Speaking of Austin, you are supposed to have a few good bars there. How would you say the music scene compares to, say, Leipsic?
Mark: Yes, there are a lot of live music venues in Austin. My first live music experience was at the Country Squire on Rehoboth Ave, Tater and the Heartbeats were playing. I was about 12 when I snuck in there. I climbed the wall at the cork a few times before I had a library card.
Matt: Let’s say Austin has a few more options to practice your Huckle-Buck two steppin’
TSD: What was your first job?
Mark: Delivering sandwiches for Cricket’s sandwich shop in Rehoboth on my Armstrong English racer bike. I still have that thing, and no it isn’t for sale. Winter job was delivering the News Journal in Northminster on a moped. I wore a ski mask so the cops couldn’t figure out I was 12.
Matt: My first job was selling popsicles on Dewey Beach. A friend and I would carry a cooler filled with popsicles, creamsicles, and fudgesicles along the beach, selling them for .50 each.
TSD: What was your WORST job here in Delaware? You don’t have to name names.
Mark: All the jobs I had in the Diamond State were great. One of the hardest ones was washing dishes at H. A. Winston’s down in Rehoboth. It would take until 3 or 4 in morning to get ‘er done. There was a dude named Fish that was the chief dish washer, he could dance like you wouldn’t believe. Fish if you are out there, you’re still my boy.
Matt: Every job I ever had in Delaware was always filled with fun times and hi-jinx.
TSD: How often do you get back to Delaware and what do you miss most about the state?
Matt: In this order: Family, friends, scrapple, pork roll, Grotto.
Mark: I get back to DE, probably three times a year. I miss the food and the people.
TSD: What are your favorite spots when you are in town?
Matt: A stop at the BBC in Wilmington followed by dinner at Mrs. Robinos is always an easy sell. Headed south we always plan our weekend nights to include a stop at one of Rehoboth and Dewey bars and restaurants. Starhole, Waterhole, Summerhole, Lighthole….
Mark: BBC Tavern and Grill when I’m up North, and Big Fish, Fish On, Bethany Blues when I’m down slow and low, all great Maine Root customers.
TSD: Matt, you recently attended the White House Easter Egg Roll. Any problems getting through security?
Matt: Since my wife and I were guests of a friend who booked the talent for the event, my wristband and credentials were clearly marked as “TALENT”- so , really I was with the band!
TSD: But seriously, that was very diplomatic of you, after Michele Obama called for a ban on all sugar or soda or something like that.
Matt: She is on track with the message of leading a healthy lifestyle. I support her efforts. Our sodas are meant to be enjoyed as an indulgence.
Mark: The key is knowing what sugar to fight. If Mrs. Obama wants to ban high fructose crack syrup, then cool, go first lady you go girl. I would be happy to see this. Mass generalizations railing against sugary sodas is more of a publicity stunt than one based on any research. [Mayor Mike] Bloomberg loves this one when he hasn’t had his name mentioned in the last hour or so, he’ll put up some posters about ‘sugary’ sodas so he can get in the news. It cuts down on campaign costs. People aren’t getting fat by drinking fair trade certified organically sweetened Root Beer. Have a Maine Root, your body will know that you are sated, and won’t need to jump up out of your chair to go re-fill your big gulp. High Fructose Corn Syrup doesn’t let you know when you’ve had enough, you just want more more more.
TSD: What’s the next big thing for Maine Root?
Matt: We recently launched a line of lemonades, all sweetened with the same fair trade certified organic sugar as we use in our sodas. We won best new product at Natural Products Expo East this year for the Maple Lemonade.
Mark: Lemonades, we just launched three great tasting Lemonades. They rule the streets.
TSD: Where the heck can we get some Maine Root around here?!!!
Matt: We have distribution in the DelMarVa area, so keep your eyes out. BBC in Wilmington, and the Big Fish Grill in Wilmo and Rehoboth are a couple of places off the top of my head!
Mark: BBC Tavern and Grill. Ask for a Maine Root, some Jam Joe’s Nachos with a side of Red Gopher hot sauce or The Big Fish Grill on the river.