A soda factory full of secrets

A soda factory full of secrets

Have you ever heard of Tøyen-Cola? It's a local Oslo soda that comes in a green glass bottle signed by O.Mathiesen, but nobody knows who he is. This made us curious, of course. Our search for O.Mathiesen led us to Oslo’s inner city neighbourhood Grønland, where the tiny soda factory that produces Tøyen-Cola lies hidden.



There’s a storm coming, according to the weatherman, and we feel it building as we embark on our little journey to Grønland. It´s crazy warm. Damp, stagnant air hits us as we pass by greengrocers, pubs, apartment buildings and all kinds of people.

It´s hard to find this place.

Even with Google Maps, we struggle. We have to ask for directions all the way up to the parking lot. It’s full of cars with different logos, none of them belonging to O.Mathisen or Tøyen-Cola.

 

We find ourselves facing an industrial building, and walk across the parking lot in search of a door with Tøyen-Cola’s name on it. No luck. We are pointed in the right direction one last time, to a door all the way in the back. Still no sign, but we enter. We walk up the stairs, through a new door and into an office. Jarle and Rikard, founders of Tøyen-Cola, greet us.


Jarle is busy with a customer, they’re looking at a screen together talking about fonts and page numbers. Rikard offers us a Tøyen-Cola and sits down with us.

 

– You can talk to me until Jarle is ready, he says.

 

This is a busy place. It’s not only a soda factory, it’s also a print shop. That’s how they met, when Rikard came asking for a job.

 

Jarle nods towards the door we just entered.

 

– He came in that door wearing long sleeves, hiding his tattoos. After he got the job, he revealed his true self.

Rikard smiles mischievously.

– I came in shirtless.

Jarle laughs.

– And then it was too late.

 

Rikard Tøyen-Cola
Rikard Tøyen-Cola
Photo: Visit Oslo Region/Mohri Films

 

Jarle started his print shop Copy Co in 2001. It was years later, in 2014, that the idea of making soda came to him. Rikard liked it, and they started the soda factory together.

– I remember a lot of late nights, Rikard says. We spent our days working in the print shop and made soda in the evenings.

The office walls are covered in posters and photos. Empty Tøyen-Cola bottles and a bag of chips sit between their workspaces. Jarle is working on his computer, mumbling under his breath about colors and formats. He is the CEO of the print shop, Rikard is the CEO of the soda factory.

– The soda factory is right behind that door, Rikard says, pointing to the end of the room.

The two partners make everything themselves, including the designs. Their soda recipe is available to everyone and is even printed on the bottle. They found it on the internet. Rikard emphasizes that Tøyen-Cola and Coca Cola are two completely different things.

– It’s our main feat, the cola doesn’t taste like anything else. The kids love it, I think it’s because they don’t already have a cola reference.

Making them talk about the soda is easy. When we ask them about anything else, though, they turn secretive.

 

Ask for Tøyen-Cola

 

To get the news about their soda out, Jarle and Rikard started decorating newsstands in Oslo with posters saying “Ask for Tøyen-Cola”. The mystery was introduced and curiosity arose. Not only was this puzzling, the soda was really tasty. Everybody wanted to know who this O.Mathisen was. So, who is he?

Rikard smiles.

– He’s like Jesus. Everybody talks about him, but no one has seen him.

Jarle lingers in his chair.

– It’s so boring, the story of how we got the idea. We promised ourselves we would never tell anyone. We’ve been lucky, word of mouth has done wonders for us. It runs much faster on rumors and lies than the boring truth.

He smiles.

– Just make up a story and tell them that’s how it was.

 

Jarle Tøyen Cola
Jarle Tøyen Cola
Photo: Visit Oslo Region/Mohri Films

 

Wherever the idea came from, it worked. They got so many orders in the beginning that they failed to deliver, and lost customers because of it. Rikard shakes his head.

 

– It was a disaster. But we were honest with them, that we’re amateurs.

 

The conversation turns to old home phones, how we miss the wires. Suddenly, without being told, Rikard turns around in the middle of a sentence and starts writing down an order that Jarle gets on the phone. No words needed; they know each other well.

 

Jarle hangs up the phone.

 

– We based our idea on the word of mouth. We discovered that the less we say, the more people talk.

 

Back to the childhood

 

Compared to other companies today, they keep a low profile. No Instagram, no Facebook. But they do have a brand-new website.

 

– We used to take orders on the phone. New customers had to go to the nearest newsstand to get our number, Rikard laughs.

 

This is all very charming, particularly if you’re one of those people who miss how things used to be. Like the green glass bottle. Rikard nods.

 

– That’s what we’re trying to get back to, childhood. I’m so sick of plastic

 

Rikard i brusfabrikken
Rikard i brusfabrikken
Photo: Visit Oslo Region/Mohri Films

 

It’s time for a private tour in the soda factory, which is a large room divided by a thin wall. In the largest part of the room they print stuff, and the smaller part houses the soda production. The modern equipment in here looks brand new and is beautifully contrasted by the green glass bottles.

 

They work long hours.

 

– I started at 6 am yesterday and finished at 7 pm, Rikard says.

 

He shows us a big tank.

 

– It holds 7000 bottles of soda. We can make 1000 bottles per hour, it’s quite fast.

 

We move closer to the tank.

 

– The money we’ve earned has been put back into the factory. We did everything manually in the beginning. We poured the soda into each bottle ourselves.


They are modest types. A few years back you could only find Tøyen-Cola in local newsstands and small cafes. Today, you can find it all over Oslo. Looks like business is thriving.

 

– Limping at best, Rikard laughs. There’s always something we can get better at.

 

He walks along the assembly line.

 

– Summer is a great time for us, people drink the cola on the way to wherever they’re going, like a popsicle. We made soda yesterday, and it sold out already.

 

We walk back into the office, where Jarle has a new project on his hands.

They have really made a leap with this business, not everyone has the guts to do so.

 

– That was our goal, Rikard says. To be our own bosses.

 

Jarle agrees.

 

– Large retail chains often have shareholders to answer to. We only answer to the universe.

 

Street art Tøyen-Cola
Street art Tøyen-Cola
Photo: Visit Oslo Region/Mohri Films

 

Our bottles are empty. They were right, Tøyen-Cola tastes like nothing else. The dream is to expand, Rikard says, to ship all over Norway.

 

– There was a guy here from Spain during Easter, he wanted to buy soda from us. He didn´t know that everything shuts down for the holidays here. He went home empty handed and really pissed.

Silence fills the room. 

– We struggle with not being businessmen, Jarle says.

 

Rikard nods.

 

– We´re not exactly super salesmen either.

 

Everybody laughs.

 

We say our goodbyes. Rikard gives us a few bottles of soda for the road. He’s out for a smoke when we pass him.

 

– The rain is coming, he says.

 

To have this little, secretive soda factory right here in the inner city is so special. It’s truly a local gem. Small, dark dots colour the pavement around us. This has been lovely. We run past tall apartment buildings, down Schweigaards street towards the tram. Soda bottles clinking in our bags.

 

Rikard was right, the rain is coming.




Visit Grønland


Wandering through Grønland is an enriching experience. With its green parks, exiting markets and cheap greengrocers, it’s a place you simply must explore.

Streets of Grønland, Oslo
Streets of Grønland, Oslo
Photo: Visit Oslo Region/Mohri Films


Diversity and urban art characterize this vibrant neighbourhood, where cultures meet and new traditions come to life.

Taste food from every corner of the world, discover the fabric shops. Enjoy a different world just a stone’s throw from Oslo's Central Station.

Enjoying Tøyen Cola at Grønland
Enjoying Tøyen Cola at Grønland
Photo: Visit Oslo Region/Mohri Films