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That Champ Season

June 3, 2010 By:
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Amazing Jews?

No, corrects Elliott Hirsh, "Amazing Juice."

Easy to confuse one with the other. Because it was the lifelong Philadelphian -- with Jewish roots from Feltonville and Fishtown to Strawberry Mansion and the "Circle" -- who brought Amazing Juice to the Jews and others of the area, starting with Elliott's Amazing Apple in 1983.

It was all part and pulp of a beverage semi-behemoth who started out life as a teacher, but then went on to chalk up successes in the beverage business.

And now, Hirsh, a cap-and-gown grad of Penn State who featured a philosophical statement under each fruit-juice cap, is eager to help others drink in even more memories, reviving and restoring Champ Cherry to local bodegas and delis.

If you loved it at Levis -- where it was introduced 60 years ago at the legendary Sixth Street spot, where old originals and fish-cake sandwiches were perfect accompaniments -- then it's time for a new gulp, says Hirsh.

And he's relying on Phillies' fans sense of history to champion the cause.

After all, he recalls, it was the championship season of 1950 -- well, pennant-winning one anyway, even if the Phils lost to the Yankees in four straight for the World Series -- that brought Champ Cherry its first cheering section.

That was when, legend has it, Abe Levis renamed his favored Champagne Cherry soda for the Whiz Kids with the fizz -- the Phils of '50, overseen by manager Eddie Sawyer, who never saw it comin'.

And its roots-roots-roots for the home team were further solidified when a PTC (think SEPTA without exact change) driver drove in each day to sample one, believing that the Phils would win every time he consumed a Champ Cherry. (Guess he wasn't around for '64.)

And, now, says Hirsh, a proud Philadelphian with a field of dreams saturated in Phillies red stripes and the soda's red tint, is the time to chomp at the Champ.

Time to get Series again.

The 64-year-old sip-and-drink man is doing a soft shoe for the soda, a bit of history as reminiscent of the old days as a Richie Ashburn seeing-eye single; a Dick Sisler sizzler; and, later, a Jim Bunning perfect game; or a Gene Mauch major temper-tantrum.

"My goal is to create an awareness of this cherry-apple-cider-soda," whose theme song could be "We Are the Champs" -- if Queen had actually written "We Are the Champions" for a soda.

Champ Cherry, like the Phillies, explains Hirsh, "is something people can believe in. It's something special I want to keep alive."

Hirsh was more alive and well when hanging out at his local H&H or Linton's as a kid, rather than at Levis. But he knows of "the emotional pull that Levis has." All he has to do is open his eyes and open a case of the bubbly -- which he has done, "dropping off a case of Champ Cherry at Pauls Run [community care center] and at the Stiffel Center for seniors," where he also has donated "chairs, tables and some of the plaques from the original Levis for their lunchroom."

Not so difficult to do since "I bought Levis outright and have owned it since the '90s."

He owns up to recalling the '50s as Phillies "phun" time.

Don't know if he was able to see any of it on his Muntz TV, but the Shibe Park stadium cheers still smack of great memories.

And didn't Jews help juice the soft drink's sales? Wasn't Champ Cherry always a "Jewish drink"?

"Actually, no," replies Hirsh. "Levis was a popular spot with Italians, Jews and blacks, but the Italians felt, more than anyone, that Champ Cherry was part of their South Philadelphia culture."

Giving his own two cents plain, Hirsh plainly recalls his introduction to the soda, after coming home from college and tasting a beverage that "was so different from root beer."

The soda has taken root at a variety of stores -- Hirsh has some 150 accounts -- where fountain service is available, but has never officially been associated with the Phillies.

And while he champions this cherry-cider concoction, Hirsh travels far and wide for his other products as well, including PhatPhruit, an energy drink.

As far as Amazing Juice is concerned, well, "we're not making it now."

But he is making plans for October.

After all, what goes better than Champ Cherry with the spectacle of champions -- those boys of summer parading down Broad Street in the heart of fall. 

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