BILOXI -- In Biloxi, the symbol of true Americana isn't apple pie -- it's Barq's, first bottled in the city 125 years ago and still one of the most popular root beers in the world.
Robert "Bones" Barq is the great-grandson of the founders of Barq's root beer and the fourth generation to work in the family business. When people learn his connection, "they kind of light up and they've all got a (Barq's) story," he said.
A friend recently recalled visiting the Barq house while he was growing up, opening the refrigerator and finding three shelves full of different flavors of Barq's.
"My favorite was the root beer, naturally," Barq said. Other favorite flavors were peach and black cherry.
These days, the Barq family buys its root beer, like everyone else. Coca-Cola bought the Biloxi and New Orleans branches of the company in 1995. Coke, which bottled its first drinks in 1894 in Vicksburg, bottles Barq's Olde Tyme Root Beer, which has caffeine, and diet root beer, which does not, as well as Barq's creme sodas.
"And it all started here on Keller Avenue in Biloxi in 1898," said Bones Barq, who shares some of his col
lection of Barq stories.
His great-grandparents, Ellodie and Edward Barq Sr., moved to Biloxi from New Orleans and started bottling their first soft drinks in their home on Keller Avenue by day, hand-washing bottles at night.
Ellodie Barq would be on the upstairs balcony and would use a pedal-powered device to push the syrup into a machine below that could fill four bottles at a time, Bones Barq said.
Bones Barq's grandfather, Edward Barq Jr., when he was as young as 7 years old, would walk the railroad tracks alone for a week to 10 days at a time taking orders for the beverages, Barq said.
"It was hard work and tough times, but that was their dream," he said. "Only in America."
Edward Jr. became president of the company upon his father's death in 1942. According to a history of the family published in the Sun Herald, "Shaken by his father's death and feeling the pressure of being the only man in the world who knew the secret root beer formula, he taught son William how to make the formula within 12 hours of his father's death." William Barq was 21 and said, "We went straight from the hospital to the lab." William Barq mastered the formula within three days.
"It was a great business and I'm proud of my heritage," Bones Barq said. While others drink coffee, he drinks Barq's -- about three a day, every day, for more than 50 years.
"Soft drinks do not make your health bad or make you fat," he challenges. "I'm not overweight, don't take any medication and I'm still pretty."