‘Zombie’ preserver targets retail buyers
KALISPELL – Zombie flavoring, an unusual drink flavor enhancer that was all the rage in Kalispell more than 30 years ago, is back in a big way.
Don “Grumpa” Andersen, who owned Grumpa’s Eatin’ Barn in Kalispell from 1975 to 1999, has spent the last three years finding a way to market individual packets of the flavoring that his customers craved.
After some packaging missteps – one shipment produced leaky pouches – the retail Grumpa’s Zombie Flavoring packs are ready to go.
Andersen, 86, said he’s always been “flabbergasted” by the zealous response to the flavoring and is relieved to have the manufacturing process completed.
“It’s been one of the most frustrating things I’ve had to do,” he said, explaining the process of finding a packaging company and all the other details that go into developing a food product. “But at my age, I’m grateful I can do the things I do.”
The story began in 1975 when Andersen bought Danny’s Drive-In on U.S. 93 South and changed the name to Grumpa’s Eatin’ Barn.
Zombie flavoring already was in use at the drive-in at that time and typically was added to cola drinks for a flavor boost. Later, diners began using it in milkshakes, coffee and other drinks such as 7-Up and lemonade.
“We sold tons of them,” said Lourell Tilton, of Columbia Falls, Mont., who worked as a cook for Grumpa’s on and off for 10 years in the late 1970s and ’80s. “Pretty much everyone who came through the drive-thru would get one. I’m a fan. When I was younger I thought it made a Coke taste like a rum and Coke, but that could have just been my imagination.”
Some customers claimed Zombie flavoring made a milkshake taste like eggnog. A few liked it drizzled on vanilla ice cream.
When the manufacturer of Zombie flavoring decided to phase out Zombie production in the late 1970s, Andersen pleaded with the company’s representative to send him all he could get from other distributors and the manufacturer’s warehouse.
The Zombie stockpile satisfied Grumpa’s customers for a couple of years, and when it was gone they yearned for more.
“People got irate because they couldn’t get their Zombie fix,” Andersen recalled with a smile. “So I called the manufacturer and asked if they’d make it for me and they said no. We negotiated and they agreed to sell me the special flavors and gave me the recipe for making the Zombie flavoring.”
From that time on, Andersen’s homemade concoction was known as Grumpa’s Zombie Flavoring and customers were pleased to have their favorite flavoring back.
After Grumpa’s closed in 1999 and Andersen retired, Zombie fans once again were in an uproar because they couldn’t get their “fix,” Andersen recalled.
So he made batches of the stuff and distributed it to convenience stores in the area. Tilton eventually joined forces with Andersen to help make and distribute bulk batches of the flavoring.
Tilton has continued to make the flavoring in a commercial kitchen, and it’s currently sold in bulk in a few locations in Kalispell.
The ingredient list shows the flavoring contains water, sugar, artificial flavor, preservatives potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate, sodium acid sulfate, caramel coloring and a trace of ethanol.
At the nudging of many longtime Grumpa’s patrons who lamented they weren’t able to get Zombie in their hometowns, Andersen and Tilton began the quest to have individual packets manufactured.
A website offering the product will be up and running within the next few weeks. Look for Grumpa’s Zombie Flavoring on Facebook, too.
“I feel honored to be a part of this,” Tilton said.