The Cheesesteak of Beverages

Why nothing is more Philly than Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak soda

Say the word “Wishniak” to 90 percent of the world, and they’ll offer you a tissue and say “God Bless you.”

But, if the word forces a reflex smile and a sweet memory, you are either a Russian or you are over 40 and grew up in the Philadelphia area. [SIGNUP]

Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak soda was one of the best things about growing up within a 50-mile radius of Billy Penn’s statue. And I know that I am not the only one who feels that way because a while back I wrote about the uniquely Philly libation on my blog, The Mendte Report, and it still get hits from transplants around the world desperately seeking Wishniak.

It is pronounced Wish-NEE-ack.  I used to call it Black Cherry Wish-nick, until the late, great Richie Ashburn set me straight during the Phillies’ broadcast.

If you don’t remember the drink, you certainly remember the slogan, “Is it Frank’s? Thanks.”  And you must remember the commercial with Patty Smyth and the group Scandal. They had the 80’s hit, “Goodbye to You.”  Patty became an instant MTV fantasy girl for teenage boys across America. But in Philly, we saw her first in a Frank’s Soda ad.

Frank’s Beverages was the official name of the company founded by Jacob Frank in 1885. Jacob was a Russian immigrant who made lemon soda from freshly squeezed lemons on the streets of Philadelphia.  Frank’s headquarters used to be in the Juniata section of the city with the bottling plant at G and Luzerne.

Frank’s also had a great cream soda and a pretty famous birch beer, but the Black Cherry Wishniak was the stuff of legends.  It is the only brand that has lived on to this day.

Many people have asked, “What the hell is a Wishniak?”  It is a cordial made in Russia and Eastern Europe with sugar, cherries and vodka.  They were taste testing some new flavors at the Frank’s Beverage Company in the 1950’s when Mulford Frank, the president of the company, tried the new soda made from Bing cherries.  He said, “This reminds me of a Wishniak.”  And the name stuck.

In 1990, Frank’s was bought out by C & C Cola.  They kept the brand and its famous bottles on the shelves for awhile.  But it didn’t make financial sense to make a soda just for one city, and Frank’s couldn’t even get shelve space on supermarkets outside the city.

Frank’s is back now.  Or at least Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak is back.  It is made by the Honickman Group, a local company that bottles and distributes Pepsi, Canada Dry, Evian, Snapple and a long list of famous brands.  Frank’s is bottled and distributed from a plant in Baltimore.  It is sent across the country and served with Tastykakes, soft pretzels, hoagies and cheesesteaks at restaurants and sandwich shops catering to transplanted Philadelphian.  In fact, it is arguably easier to get a Frank’s soda in the Los Angeles area than in the Philadelphia area, thanks to a chain of restaurant’s called Philly’s Best that are very popular in Southern California.

They don’t make the bottles anymore, just cans.  A case will cost you 70 dollars.  The rich and those drunk with nostalgia will pay that much for a taste of their childhood.  (Although I have received reports of cases popping up for less at beer distributors in the area.)

But here is a tip.  Hank’s and Stewart’s both now make bottled Black Cherry Wishniak sodas.  I know, I know, it’s not Frank’s.  But Stewart’s is bottled and distributed at the same plant.  And Hank’s has a Philadelphia history.  Most importantly, both are easier to find.

Here’s what you do.  Buy a Hank’s or a Stewart’s, put your hand firmly around the middle covering the label, close your eyes and pretend its Frank’s.  The memories will be the same.  Unless, of course, you’re Russian, in which case, you’ll be asking, “Where the hell is the vodka?”

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post on Mondays and Thursdays. Watch his video commentaries at WPIX.com.

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  • Shaun

    Personally I absolutely love Canada Dry’s BCW….it’s one of my top favorite soda’s right behind Ting (a Jamaican grapefruit flavored soda)

  • Ruth

    Some people pronounced this soda as Vishnik.

  • Connie

    I also remember the “vishnick” pronunciation. Maybe that was a non-Russian name. I grew up in Frankford and all my friends called it vishnick, too. I live in Maine now and would give my eye teeth for a bottle of Frank’s.

  • Jackie, Broomall PA

    Thinking of Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak takes me right back to being a little kid over at my Mom Mom and Pop Pop’s house at 64th and Buist! Pop Pop’s name was Frank which made the brand make that much more of an impact – plus he was the best! I have always loved that flavor and also looked for Frank’s over the years. Other Black Cherry’s aren’t the same, however Hank’s and Stewart’s DO fill the craving! I think Hank’s is just a bit better though. Everyone who I serve it to is surprised how much they like it – obviously they are those who did NOT grow up in Philly in the 50’s and 60’s. . . Oh, those truly WERE ‘the days!’

  • flavian

    Great little trip down memory lane. My brother is a BCW freak, and we reminisce about it just about every holiday dinner. We still argue over the pronunciation of the name, but not the taste.

  • ann petko

    It will alwys be Black Cherry “Wish-nick” to me!!
    But $70.00 a case? WOAH!

  • kenny t

    Where can Franks wishiak be purchased in florida? I really miss it also creme soda.

  • Fran Glick

    Help me please
    It is pronounced blacj cherry yishnik
    enough said
    I’m from South Philly
    We also didn’t call it a “soft” pretzel. A pretzel was such A hard pretzel was what is now called a pretzel rod. No such thing as a cheese steak how about a steak sandwich wit.
    Yo South Philly
    Stand up for our Heritage
    Raised at 7th and Oregon
    Water Ice came in 2 flavors, lemon and cherry
    I can’t get over wish nee ack

  • http://www.rocktownhall.com frankenslade

    Don’t forget Philadelphia’s late-great band from the 1980s named after this great soda, The Wishniaks!

  • Andrew Weisman

    The original Frank’s Soda plant was located on 6th and Moore. The founders were brothers Max and Manual. Max was the inside production, and Manual was the outside sales.
    Max Frank was my Great-grandfather.

  • Rachel

    Frank’s can still be bought in 2liters as well and other flavors other than black cherry. Also still live in Philly and all the delis and beer distributors in my neighborhood still sell Frank’s can’s and 2 liters.

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    I am new to blogging and actually enjoyed your site. I am going to bookmark your web site and keep checking you out. Thanks for sharing your blog.

  • Vicki Frank

    This message is for Andrew Weisman the great-grandson of Frank’s Beverage founders. While researching my family history, I discovered that my great-grandfather was a brother of the founders of Frank’s Beverage. I would be interested in discussing the family history.

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    I absolutely accept what you have said. In fact, I browsed through your other content articles and I think you are absolutely right. Congrats with this particular online site.

  • http://aol.com barbara daniels

    HELP!!! I Want to buy metal trays from FRANKS BEVERAGE CO in Phula. They are painted with fruit on the front and have the FRANKS logo on them. They were sold in the 1950’s. Please notify me if you know where I can buy them. Barbara Daniels, 824 Providence Rd APT A104, Secane PA 19018 or E-mail; babsbevi@aol.com

  • oldielov7

    I grew up on Frank’s sodas back in the 50’s. My grandfather used to send me to the store to get a large (quart) bottle of orange soda. I remember when Frank’s was the only brand with real pulp in his orange soda. Now I know why, after reading the history of Frank’s sodas which stated that he stared out making his sodas with lemons. I also remember Black Cherry Wishniak, but was pronounced ( Wish-Nick) in South Philly at the time. I’m sorry that Frank’s soda is not found on shelves of Philly corner stores. It’s sad that a Philly product so popular is now history and generations to come will never know unless we’re still around to tell them the story of Frank’s. I have passed the info down to my daughter and grandson. Keep it going on your website. Good Job Frank’s, Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.willmore1 Rick

    Ahhhh… Thanks for the memories!… Luckily the deli down the street has the Canada Dry version of it, which is a “CLOSE” version of Franks!… Enjoying it NOW!

  • Tom Cote

    Canada Dry makes one too which is available at Redner’s Warehouse Markets in the greater Reading area.