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Photos courtesy of Jonathan Brasher.
Hoover resident Jonathan Brasher makes one-of-a-kind soft drinks for Mimi’s Sodas.
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Mocha float made with Domestique coffee and chocolate soda, chocolate ice cream and Bud’s Best cookies.
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Left: The Magic Shannon soda made with Wickles pickles, lime and preserved lime.
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Cordette Wall said she always knew she would be famous — she just didn’t know it would happen in her 80s. Wall, also known as Mimi to her grandchildren, is the namesake and inspiration behind one of Birmingham’s newest businesses, Mimi’s Sodas.
Her grandson Jonathan Brasher, a longtime Hoover resident, is the creative mastermind behind the craft soda cart that has been popping up around town. Mimi’s Sodas, pronounced “mih-mees,” can be bought at Pepper Place farmers market on Saturday mornings or at the West Homewood Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays.
Brasher sells his sodas by the 16-ounce cup for $4 or as ice cream floats paired with homemade ice cream for $7. All his sodas and ice creams are made with local produce, and the flavors change based on what fruits and plants he can forage or buy from local farmers and co-ops in season.
“I can’t stop changing the flavors,” he said. “I should have more steady flavors, but I mostly do classic flavor profiles, but then try to work in more exotic stuff to push the boundaries of local.”
Past soda flavors have included strawberry basil, carrot ginger ale and a mocha soda made with Domestique Haitian coffee, chocolate and cream.
Float choices range from a vegan avocado lime float made with lime basil soda, avocado ice cream and hempseed granola to a peachy pine float made with peach ginger soda and roasted peach and Virginia pine ice cream. Brasher’s current favorite float is his blueberry and candy cap mushroom soda paired with a Conecuh bacon ice cream.
Candy cap mushrooms have a strong maple flavor that pair with bacon and blueberry for a full taste of breakfast.
“I like flavors that shouldn’t work, but do,” he said.
The Shades Mountain Christian High School alumnus said he started developing sodas after first experimenting with juices and cocktails. During his time as a chef for Shindigs Catering, he worked at their short-lived juice bar. He then ventured into making craft cocktails, and eventually sodas followed.
“I all of a sudden realized I was making sodas without meaning to,” he said. “First it was with no bubbles, then it was alcohol and bubbles, and finally it just morphed into this.”
Brasher got into the food business in roughly the same way he got into sodas. As a kid, he always played in the kitchen. He often threw random ingredients into a bowl, then baked them to see what he could make. Though he admits his creations were mostly horrible at the time, he credits this early experimentation with growing his food obsession.
Making sodas through Mimi’s is a far cry from Brasher’s first food job as a nighttime grill cook for The Cheesecake Factory in 2009. For one, he doesn’t have to grill 30 pieces of meat at one time, or work with any meat for that matter. But more importantly, he gets to do things his own way, which he said has led to lots of figuring, refiguring and many an all-nighter.
“With every piece of produce, I’m figuring out the best way to extract the flavor — syrups, juices, shrubs, infusions — and everything is different,” he said. “So that’s been the hardest part, and what I’m most proud of is getting pure, real flavor out of fruit.”
Brasher said he spent more than a year developing soda-making techniques and then did three months of intensive recipe developing with Chad Schofield, former co-owner of Shindigs Catering. Brasher worked under Schofield at Shindigs, and when Schofield decided it was time for him to move on from the catering business, his first order of business was encouraging Brasher to make his craft soda dreams a reality.
“I had been bouncing ideas off him, and he finally said, ‘You need to do this. Let me help you,’ and that forced me to follow through with my idea,” he said. “So basically it’s all Chad’s fault.”
At the time, Brasher was working a full-time sales job, part-time at Shindigs, and spending any extra time experimenting with sodas in his kitchen. By the winter of 2015 he committed to doing Mimi’s, and he made his Birmingham debut at Pepper Place on April 9.
Now that Mimi’s is up and running and he has had time to iron out the kinks in his recipes, Brasher already is beginning to plan for the future.
One of the most looming concerns for him is how he’ll be able to continue using local produce once winter hits and it’s not as readily available. To address this problem, he is working to process and freeze as many local fruits as he can to use later. In addition, Brasher is considering bottling his sodas to sell locally. For this, he is working with Kay Reed, owner of Café Iz in Vestavia Hills, to get his soda sold at her grocery store in English Village and eventually beyond.
Brasher makes his sodas from Reed’s commissary kitchen and works with her to develop Mimi’s soda cocktails as an option for her catering business. Thus far, he has mostly done wedding rehearsals, and recently he did alcoholic soda floats for BIG Communications downtown.
Brasher credits the mentorship of people such as Schofield and Reed, as well as Pete Halupka and Lindsey Whiteaker at Harvest Roots, with making Mimi’s Sodas possible.
“I’ve been so overwhelmed and humbled by the people who believe in the concept and want to make it happen,” he said.
The support for Mimi’s seems like part of a larger movement of people looking to buy and eat local. In Birmingham and its surrounding areas, especially, people have been extremely receptive to the concept, Brasher said.
“I can’t really judge what our local scene is like next to other markets, but I doubt if there are many — if any — other cities that are moving as fast as we are in the right direction,” he said.