People Will Pay This Houston Business $50 For A Soda, And Paul Wall And Travis Scott Are Customers


It depends on where you buy from. A 2-liter Coke is $1.99 on Amazon Fresh. At Fiesta, you can get a six-pack for as low as $2.50. Festivals and concert halls can sometimes approach $10 a pop for thirsty crowds.

But more importantly, it depends on what you drink.

Exotic Pop, a black-owned beverage company based in Houston, lists a 20-ounce soda on its site for $20. Yes, you read correctly. But it’s not your everyday soft drink. It’s the notoriously hard to find, clear Crush Cream Soda that comes from Canada.

According to the Exotic Pop site, it blends “dessert flavors like vanilla mousse and French vanilla.” An online search brings up their list before anyone else’s. A 2 liter costs $40.

There are a lot of people who are willing to pay those prices, and Exotic Pop is cornering the market with this “culture of exclusivity.” They sell rare and imported soft drinks and snacks, from Dr. Pepper Fantastic Chocolate ($50 for a 12-ounce can) to an unopened box of Michael Jordan “Space Jam” Wheaties listed for $500.

“Everyone wants something that nobody has. For a very long time it was jewelry, a car, shoes, clothes. It was recycled for so long through music videos and social media,” explains Charleston Wilson, founder and CEO of Exotic Pop.

Exotic pop and Vanessa Guillén

March against crime

3 p.m. Saturday at César E. Chávez High School, 8501 Howard

With speakers, special guests and a mariachi

Benefit Concert Celebration of Life

6 p.m. Saturday at One Club, 20434 Kuykendahl, Spring

With Peso Peso, Lil Hawk, Lady Icess, Big Tony, Splurge, Mexico, Nawf.g, FTR Worldwide, Ari and Dj Gloss; $10 donation includes Vanessa Guillén Memorial Alkaline Water

Building on this culture of luxury and its association with hip-hop, Exotic Pop offers its own line of drinks featuring Houston rap icons including DJ Screw, Bun B, Fat Pat and Too Short. A QR code on each bottle links to the artist’s music.

Wilson, who previously rented exotic cars and drove celebrities around town, says the light bulb went on in 2016 when he was commuting between Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he was taking classes, and Houston. A friend who owned a barbershop asked Wilson to bring back some Louisiana sodas that weren’t available in Texas. He returned with Sprite Tropical, Barq’s French Vanilla Crème Soda, Barq’s Red Crème Soda, and an unusual Fanta flavor.

“Everyone’s eyes lit up. I had no idea,” Wilson recalled. “Everyone went crazy in the barbershop.”

Thumbs up from Paul Wall

They sold out immediately, and Wilson began delivering sodas to the store regularly. But after some exchanges, the shop could not meet the demand. Wilson, who spent his entire salary on produce, was stuck with cases of sodas.

In his “desperation”, Wilson opened an Instagram account and posted a message containing eight drinks. The first message included her phone number and offered free shipping.

“EXOTIC POP!” EXOTIC POP! EXOTIC POP! Flavors not sold in town!” read the post of April 3, 2016.

Twelve days later, Wilson was offering Exotic Pop t-shirts for sale on Instagram. Four days later, he presented a branded polystyrene cup. That same month, the first Exotic Pop vending machine, featuring ten drink choices, was unveiled at the Watkins Grocery Store on Cullen, directly across from Wilson’s grandmother’s house.

“I made my first load, Louisiana sodas, full in the machine, $3 apiece at the time. I woke up the next morning and went to check the machine. I opened it and there was $600 in there, ones and fives,” Wilson says.

He knew he was onto something.

“I sold those, I bought some, I sold, I bought others, until today,” he says.

Rappers quickly started paying attention. Paul Wall gave them a “monumental” boost when he posted about Exotic Pop on Instagram. This sparked the interest of Travis Scott, who recruited Wilson to create a custom vending machine worth $50,000. It included a 40-inch touchscreen LED panel and hologram effects. They are currently working on a custom cooler for Bun B.

Today, Exotic Pop is Drake’s go-to for Clearly Canadian when he’s in Houston. Lil Wayne gets a weekly delivery of his favorite sodas. Longtime fan Lil Keke became a co-owner when Exotic Pop presented him with 10,000 shares of the company.

“It’s become a whole other bragging rights for hip-hop culture,” says Kehlin Farooq, president of Exotic Pop. “There is a lifestyle association that goes along with drinking a soda. We added music, art, culture. It’s a status symbol.

Wilson landed a licensing and bottling deal in 2019 with Pepsi to launch Exotic Pop’s own line of drinks tied to hip-hop icons. The top four included Big Mo, DJ Screw, Fat Pat and Big Hawk. There have been limited runs of Pops Cream Soda from Dennis Graham (Drake’s father); and Mama Moe (Big Moe’s mother) 3rd Ward Sweet Tea.

Physical store

Exotic Pop made $6 million in profits for 2021, fueled in part by their line of hard-to-find snacks. Some of the most popular include Strawberry Milkshake Pop-Tarts, Banana Twinkies, and Dr. Pepper Cotton Candy.

“I’m crazy to know what kind of cults are here. I never thought there would be a Pop Tart cult,” says Farooq.

This summer, Exotic Pop plans to go even further. There are soda collabs with Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, and longtime fan Rob Kardashian. There is a line of premium cream sodas independent of celebrity endorsements. There’s the possibility of a Selena soda as part of Pop Exotico, a line aimed at the Latino market. The emanation was introduced last year with Vanessa Guillén Alkaline Water, created with the approval of her family. One hundred percent of profits are donated to the Guillén family and the I Am Vanessa Guillén Foundation.

Exotic Pop has its own music label with rappers Lady Icess and Lil Hawk, son of the late Big Hawk. There are plans for children’s and pet lines; monthly workshops for underserved communities on personal housing finance; and HISD Seniors Scholarships.

So the next big step is a retail location. They opened one a year ago in Los Angeles. But Farooq says the one in Houston will be the “grand lighthouse.” Opening is scheduled for this summer in Almeda and Southmore. The interior’s white color scheme and rounded edges are inspired by Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” video. It will also include a “slab simulator,” intended to give customers the experience of driving inside one of the candy-colored cars.

It was far from that first Instagram post and vending machine that motivated Wilson to continue. Exotic Pop now has over 240,000 Instagram followers on its main account. And the machine is still there, by the way. Wilson can’t bring himself to get rid of it.

“It’s been fun, man,” he said. ” It was great. It was a fantastic race.

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