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Johnson City’s Dr. Enuf Turns 70

By Fred Sauceman • Mar 20, 2019 at 12:00 AM

“My mother, Evelyn Gordon, is 97 years old, and every day that I drop by, the first thing she’s looking forward to is having her afternoon Dr. Enuf. She has one every day,” says her son, Chuck Gordon.

Dr. Enuf, “the original energy booster,” marks its 70th anniversary this year. Evelyn quaffs that daily Dr. Enuf not only to make herself feel better. She drinks it as a tribute to her late husband, Charles O. Gordon Sr., who first began bottling the beverage in 1949.

A native of Marion, Virginia, as is his widow, Gordon was a highly decorated glider pilot during World War II. Shortly after returning to the States when his military service was over, he established the Tip Bottling Company, and around 1948, he changed the name to Tri-City Beverage. The company has retained that moniker ever since.

Gordon’s experience in the military had a direct bearing on his drink business, which he operated out of Quonset huts.

“I was sold on using Quonsets after being housed in them in England during the war,” Gordon wrote. He pointed out that a Quonset could be constructed in about 300 hours, and the lack of columns made moving products around in them much easier.

Tri-City Beverage was the first Mountain Dew franchiser and the first to put the drink in commercial bottles. Mountain Dew would eventually be bought by Pepsi.

But Dr. Enuf has always been a Gordon family product. Charles Gordon made the acquaintance of a man named Bill Swartz, who had graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago. Hearing his co-workers complain of lethargy, Swartz developed the thiamine-laced formula for what became Dr. Enuf, and Gordon purchased it. Chuck Gordon says the original formula his father bought has never changed, with 246 percent of the recommended daily amount of thiamine (B1) and 85 percent of the recommended level of niacin (B3).

The caffeinated lemon-lime drink has always been sweetened with pure cane sugar, not high-fructose cane syrup. “If you’re going to get the true flavor out of a beverage, it’s got to be pure sugar,” Charles O. Gordon Sr. asserted in his memoir, “Soaring Life’s Currents,” published in 2003.

Charles Gordon also insisted that Dr. Enuf be bottled in glass, and Chuck, as company President and CEO, has continued that tradition, except for the plastic bottles that are required for vending machines.

“Glass preserves the best flavor,” Chuck tells me as we tour the plant on Johnson City’s south side. “The carbonation stays in the glass bottle. The shelf life of a drink in a plastic bottle is only about 90 days. A drink in glass, well-capped, can last for a year or two.”

Chuck says that in the bottling industry, there aren’t many glass lines left. Tri-City Beverage takes advantage of that scarcity by doing glass bottling for other companies around the country, such as Salisbury, North Carolina’s Cheerwine, a drink that dates to 1917.

Early in the history of Dr. Enuf, those glass bottles held seven ounces. “Most soft drinks then were 10-ounce,” Chuck says. “Dr. Enuf was sold in four packs for 98 cents. That’s about 25 cents a bottle, at a time when most soft drinks sold for a nickel.”

That higher price didn’t discourage consumers, who thought they were getting something extra in that bottle of Dr. Enuf. And, Chuck says, they were.

“Bill Swartz created the drink to replenish the nutrients the body exhausts in a hard day’s work. From the beginning, it was sold as a dietary supplement, a tonic, something to re-energize you. It wasn’t sold or marketed as a soft drink.”

Dr. Enuf devotees have made all sorts of claims over the years about the drink’s therapeutic powers. Some say it eases arthritis. Some say it soothes a “sour stomach.” Some say it makes chemotherapy more bearable.

Wanda Braswell, Tri-City Beverage’s Senior Vice President for Administration, Finance, and Quality Assurance, tells me about a South Carolina family that drives to Johnson City regularly to buy Dr. Enuf, since they claim it’s the only thing that will cure their mother’s urinary tract infections. One drinker said it alleviated “untold misery.”

A sugar-free version of Dr. Enuf debuted in 1998, and in 2002 a cherry-flavored herbal variety was introduced, containing ginseng, in addition to caffeine-packed guarana from a South American shrub.

As Johnson City celebrates its sesquicentennial this year, the Gordon family reflects often on the success of Tri-City Beverage and the entrepreneurial talents of Charles O. Gordon Sr. In fact, Gordon was serving as Johnson City’s mayor in 1969 during the city’s centennial year.

A Virginia Tech engineering graduate, Gordon opened the first boat and motor dealership in the area. He operated a furniture manufacturing business. He even owned citrus groves in Florida. And he and Evelyn raised six children.

Wanda Braswell started working at Gordon’s Furniture as a switchboard operator and shipping clerk in 1977.

“It’s almost like having celebrity status when people find out I work for Dr. Enuf,” she tells me. “They’ll call me Dr. Wanda. Tri-City Beverage and Dr. Enuf are more than a business. They’re a legacy.”

Fred Sauceman is the author of the book “The Proffitts of Ridgewood: An Appalachian Family’s Life in Barbecue.”

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