In late June, the 120-year-old Dr Pepper plant in Dublin, Texas announced that it was being sued by its parent company, Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS).
The plant, which is the world's oldest and smallest Dr Pepper bottler, found itself at odds with DPS after repeated warnings not to distribute their Imperial cane sugar-sweetened Dr Pepper outside the 44-mile radius of the small town. The soda, the only Dr Pepper sweetened with cane sugar, is notoriously popular throughout Texas -- as well as the rest of the world -- and Dr Pepper bootleggers are infamous for buying the soda in Dublin and distributing it to the four corners of the earth.
Just because its soda is popular, however, doesn't mean that the little plant -- which only has 37 employees -- has a lot of money to fight its legal battles. So they've turned to the public and Dr Pepper fans across the world for support, asking them to contribute to a legal defense fund to help fight the DPS lawsuit.
"We've been extremely proud and overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to support us," says Bill Kloster, president and CEO of Dublin Dr Pepper.
"Our customers treasure our product and recognize that we're a small business that's been drawn into an expensive fight against a corporate giant. We dearly appreciate everyone's support."
And an expensive fight it will be: DPS is not only asking Dublin to cease selling outside of its distribution area (a fair request, all in all), but it's also asking a federal court to prevent the plant from using the iconic "Dublin Dr. Pepper" name on its drinks and in its business. DPS also wants Dublin to cease sales of the soda through its website and toll-free number. And as a final blow, DPS is also is asking for attorneys' fees.
The Dublin plant has already raised $25,000 for its fund. But how far will that support go? With the nation in a recession and everyone's purse-strings tightened, will people be willing to part with their hard-earned cash for something as commercial as a legal defense fund for a soda?
We polled our readers on Facebook and Twitter, and a surprising number of people leaped to Dublin's defense.
"If I could afford to, I would," wrote Dustin Kalman. "However, maybe I'll just buy more Dublin Dr Pepper instead."
To that end, the Dublin plant is providing incentives to fans who donate: A contribution of $50 or will net you Dublin Dr Pepper memorabilia, including a new "Save Dublin" Lawsuit Edition T-shirt.
"Dr Pepper isn't providing what the customers want, and then they're going to sue someone who is," said Jo Gonzales -- also known as my mother -- responding on Facebook, and referring to the high-fructose corn syrup found in regular Dr Pepper. Gonzales purchases the Dublin variety because she wants to drink the soda she grew up with -- without the HFCS.
"It's corporate arrogance at its worst," she said. "We're not going to give you what you want, and then we're going to make it impossible for you to get what you want. It's a big F U to customers."
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Amber Ambrose, editor of Eater Houston, disagreed: "I don't have a lot of money to spend on charitable donations," she wrote. "When I do, it goes to help something more important on a human level than a soft drink."
Frequent EOW commenter Greg Norris sided with Ambrose, adding: "Like a spouse suing in a divorce, would friends kick in to help? I'm with Amber, as a consumer I show my support by purchasing the products I like. The line is drawn there for me."