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Meet the 94-Year-Old Creator of Orange Bang, L.A.’s Long-Running Soft Drink Underdog

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]nyone growing up around Los Angeles after the 1970s most likely has vivid food memories involving Orange Bang or the company’s other colorful beverages that have cascaded in the fountains of your favorite low-key neighborhood spot for decades.  

The frothy drink can be found everywhere around the city, from Hong Kong Express in South Central and Astro Burgers’ Inglewood location to a random Westlake strip mall Subway. Other drinks, including their Hispanic Olé! line, are nondescript taco joint standards all through Southern California. 

According to a 1986 LA Times news feature, the Sylmar-based company became a cult favorite around the area without the advertising budgets of big named brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Over two decades later, Orange Bang founder David Fox says the drinks still speak for themselves. 

David Fox, founder of Orange Bang. Photo by Ural Garrett for L.A. Taco.

“The product itself was the key to success,” Fox said. “You can spend all the money you want on advertising. If it’s not there, it’s not going to happen. It has to be a product that you really like.” 

Before Fox settled, the Canadian native already lived a reasonably adventurous life between Detroit and Los Angeles. Promising professional baseball hopes disappeared after a minor league game injury in Phoenix hurt his ball hitting skills. Working for Capitol Records during the 1950s in promotions allowed him to work with everyone from Little Eva to Sammy Davis Jr. Somewhere in between, he even A&R’ed a minor hit with storied Detroit doo-wop group The Dynamics.

Fox would enter the soft drink business through 5 Crown Fruit Juices; a beverage company started with four other business partners attempting to sell a frothy orange drink by a Texas company to movie theaters. 5 Crown Fruit Juices didn’t last long. When the orange drink maker was sold, it killed Fox’s chance to be the California distributor. 

Orange Bang uses real orange juice in addition to low-fat milk and egg whites to achieve that velvety frothiness.

A fan of the failed orange drink and the Orange Julius franchise, Fox decided to create Orange Bang all from his house. 

“I had tried the recipe over 100 times over three; four months,” Fox explained. “I had to go through different flavoring houses for the orange flavoring.”

His daughter Terry Fox-Kamp who helps with the family business, says she remembers her father using her high school friends as taste testers. 

“Every day, he’d be working like a mad scientist as he formulated the product by using scales and everything,” Fox-Kamp said. “Every time my friends came over, he’d line up little tiny cups and ask everyone to close their eyes and taste. My friends remember coming over for that.” 

Photo by Ural Garrett for L.A. Taco.

Once he perfected his recipe, he went door-to-door to any restaurants that would watch his presentation. Fox would introduce Orange Bang by bringing all the ingredients with a blender for owners and staff to try. He even delivered fountains, set up the equipment alongside drinks, and serviced them. The company grew enough for him to hire drivers and equipment maintenance specialists to focus more on selling. 

The company eventually added other flavors like Colada Bang and Strawberry Bang. Adding the Olé! Line of Hispanic-inspired drinks, including jamaica, tamarindo, and the brand’s biggest seller Horchata. Fox said a lot of the drink’s success had to do with the Latinx demographic in Southern California. 

“We’ve been told 100 times over it’s everyone’s favorite,” Fox-Kamp added. “When it comes to fountain drinks, nobody can compete with it. That’s because of him. He’s constantly making sure it tastes great as with all the flavors.” 

Fox-Kamp said that though the official recipe and process is secret, everything is made at the headquarters with natural ingredients through puree concentrates. Orange Bang uses real orange juice in addition to low-fat milk and egg whites to achieve that velvety frothiness. They use fresh tamarindo and fresh hibiscus flowers. 

At 94-years-old, Fox is still experimenting with new drinks when he’s not having a say in Orange Bang’s business affairs. 

“It’s all-natural ingredients, and that’s why it tastes good,” she said. “We don’t cut corners on cost. We have to compete with the market when it comes to price, but our product is top quality, so we’re a premium beverage.” 

That doesn’t mean Orange Bang hasn’t gone without challenges. Fox accused Coca-Cola of attempting to undermine his company at one point. Interestingly enough, Coke’s lifelong rival Pepsi was once interested in buying Orange Bang. 

“Companies like Coke and the rest of them were very nervous about Orange Bang,” he described. “We were at a convention in Chicago called The National Restaurant Convention one year. We found out that Coke was passing around a pamphlet titled “How To Compete Against Orange Bang.”

Fox said Coke also started making contracts with some businesses where they couldn’t put a competitor’s piece of equipment and sell their product to compete against them. “Of course, they gave them a lot of money for advertising with the stipulations,” Fox explained. “That’s how we sell our product through fountains. They kept us from expanding to become a really big company.”

Decades later, Orange Bang lost an expensive patent dispute with another rival Juicy Whip, over the fountain dispenser. “I just think that’s the monopoly of life no matter whose in that game of who can dominate one or the other,” said Fox-Kamp. 

Moving on past the cut-throat beverage industry battles, Orange Bang continued to thrive with new flavor additions like Strawberry Lemonade and an Iced Coffee blend. At 94-years-old, Fox is still experimenting with new drinks when he’s not having a say in Orange Bang’s business affairs. 

The youthful and authoritative energy Fox displays are needed more than ever as Orange Bang faces COVID-19 pandemic issues. 

“He loves working otherwise he wouldn’t be here,” said Fox-Kamp. “Believe me, he has his hands in everything and has been the main boss ever since. Everything goes through him, and he knows everything that’s going on with every department.”

The youthful and authoritative energy Fox displays are needed more than ever as Orange Bang faces COVID-19 pandemic issues. 

“Well, a lot of places we sell to are out there having problems with customers because of the virus,” described Fox. “Sales have gone down 50 percent. A lot of people have gone out of business. A lot of people have low sales. The amount of places we sell to, about 25 percent are not coming back.” 

According to Fox-Kamp, issues with the pandemic have created problems on the logistical side, affecting other businesses as well. 

“First thing is safety and making sure everyone adheres to our safety rules,” she said. “The hardest part are employees who can’t come in because they have young children at home. So some people can’t come in on certain days. That’s been a hard thing for me cause I have to pick up the slack all over and train new people.”

Despite the gloomy situation hurting all sorts of businesses nationally, Fox-Kamp stays cheery and hopeful. 

“I think we’re fine,” she proclaimed. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re riding the wave on top and not crashing. That’s most important. We’re not buried or struggling. As long as things continue, we’ll be great by the time this is all over with.”

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