Pick up a can of Pepsi at a Thurston County grocery store and you will be consuming a product that has been made without leaving the community. The soda, can and packaging never traveled outside Thurston County. In fact, the locally sourced can was produced in a plant in Thurston County, filled with soda by local employees and distributed to a grocery store by locally owned and operated L&E Bottling.
Many people believe as I did, that our soft drinks like Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper are produced hundreds of miles away and the cans and bottles could be made anywhere, possibly even out of the country. I could not have been more wrong. I was happy to learn about this local connection from the President of L&E Bottling, Brian Charneski.
Charneski’s grandparents began their soft drink and ice cream business in the mid-1930s with 7-Up and their own drink line called L&E flavors. The company, named after the owners Louie and Ellen deMoise, was a very small family business. Ellen kept the books and Louie filled the bottles and delivered them. Louie returned each evening with the empties to be cleaned and refilled for the following business day. In the late 1930s, L&E secured the Pepsi franchise for the region including Thurston, Lewis and most of Mason counties and began bottling Pepsi. A Pepsi franchise is a perpetual franchise, meaning that it is passed down from generation to generation.
Today, Charneski follows in his parents’ footsteps as the third generation to run the business. The fourth generation is also involved. Brian’s son, Grant, is the General Manager and Aaron handles vending and special events.
Things have changed since Louie drove the only company truck, and L&E bottling has grown with the times. L&E is a full service provider of all Pepsi products, from beverages to fountains and coolers. The company now provides 75 full-time employees in its Olympia location. There are over 100 company vehicles, which are maintained and serviced in the company shop. The warehouse is 68,000 square feet and houses enough inventory to keep all of Thurston County hydrated.
Just down the road from L&E in the Mottman Industrial Park is Pepsi Northwest Bottlers (PNB). This business completes all the canning and bottling for L&E, along with 14 other regional franchisees. One of the largest manufacturing plants in the area, PNB employs 135-150 full-time employees making the beverage business one of the largest employers in Thurston County. PNB buys its empty cans from Olympia’s Crown Beverage, which produces the cans and Tumwater’s Amcor, which supplies the pre-formed plastic bottles. Whether you choose a Mountain Dew, a diet Pepsi or a Mist Twist at your local gas station or restaurant, you are helping to keep Thurston County residents employed.
L&E Bottling carries over 800 products, many of which I saw as we walked the rows of shelving in the Mottman warehouse. I was surprised to learn there are 85 types of Gatorade. The newest addition to the L&E product line is the coffee business introduced and run by Shad Cooley.
“The fastest growing segment of the beverage industry is brewed coffee,” explains Charneski. L&E provides coffee service to offices, gas stations, restaurants and hotels. “Starbucks can’t do it all,” he jokes as we pass the coffee section of the vast warehouse.
L&E Bottling has continued to grow by diversifying and evaluating consumer trends. “Energy drinks are a big part of the market,” says Charneski as we pass rows of drinks with names like AMP and No Fear. General Manager, Grant Charneski meets with new energy drink producers monthly, each one hoping to be added to the distribution chain.
In addition to providing local jobs and tax revenue, L&E supports the community through philanthropy and the L&E Scholarship Fund for high school and college students.
For more information about L&E Bottling visit their website at www.olympiapepsi.com.