Now a senior at the University of Utah, Ethan Cisneros is opening the third location of his soda mixer and treats shop, Thirst. The newest store is in the Peterson Heritage Center’s Crimson Corner next to the dorms.
Cisneros’ first location opened in September 2016 on 1300 South and State Street with 13 employees. Thirst then expanded to the Vivint Smart Home Arena in 2017 and has now made itself a home at the U.
Hoping to make Thirst stand out from other soda mixology shops, Cisneros focuses on creating an unbeatable customer experience. Every purchase comes with a free bag of popcorn and the staff is always friendly. Thirst seeks to build an environment that is comfortable and customer-focused. It has been that way from the start and now the company brings that same attitude and energy to the U.
“What people want is what we want — to serve them. . . . Drinks and sweets are our commodity, but what we’re really selling is customer experience,” Cisneros told the Daily Utah Chronicle in August of 2017.
Cisneros worked the opening of the U location alongside his employees, only stepping away for a single class and some brief meetings. He sees it as an opportunity to connect with fellow students and possibly start recruiting employees as much as possible.
“I like to talk to people and let them know that I’m a student, let them know that this is a fun thing to do and that we are also hiring,” Cisneros said.
Even with the University contract, snagging this location was no easy feat for Cisneros. It took nearly a year and a half of pitches, phone calls and emails until Thirst was finally approved to open on campus.
“We try to create an eclectic palate on campus,” said Jerry Basford, associate vice president of business and auxiliary services. “We vet all proposals to make sure that we don’t have two food operations selling the same thing. For instance, in the Union we sell hamburgers, so we probably wouldn’t bring in another hamburger company. In this case, Thirst came to us with a product that we thought the students, staff and faculty would like that we didn’t have on campus.”
The Thirst and business and auxiliary teams first considered Lassonde for the campus location, but constraints such as the need for a drain and running water in the space led to the decision to open up shop in the Crimson Corner within the PHC.
According to Basford, the PHC was an optimal location for Thirst as a year-round business. Students eat at that dining hall during the nine months that regular classes are in session. Summers are full of orientation groups, high school students and conference attendees who flock to the building.
“Opening up on campus was just an incredible opportunity that we really couldn’t pass up,” Cisneros said. “The partnership works for both the brand of the university and Thirst. And the bottom line, the profitability, was a great deal. It’s awesome to finally have a location back where it all started, on campus.”
Throughout opening day, Thirst handed out free drinks to students. All they had to do was follow @thirstdrinks on Instagram. Already, Utes are loving the new shop.
“The staff was super friendly and outgoing,” said Maggie Burke, a senior studying psychology and a resident advisor on campus.
“They have a few diet sodas and sugar-free syrups, which I appreciated. I was tired of the sodas they sell at the Crimson Corner, so I’m happy to have something new and interesting.”
Some students, such as freshmen Lucy Arambula and Kelsey Aberasturi, are from out of state and had never heard of Thirst or the “dirty soda” craze that has taken hold of Utah. After their first taste, Arambula and Aberasturi plan on becoming frequent customers.
By dinner, Thirst had given away nearly 400 sodas to thirsty students and an estimated 600 to 700 by the end of the night. For the rest of the year, sodas range from $1.75 to $4.25 which students can pay with their campus flex, dining and Lassonde dollars. Depending on the method of payment, Cisneros projects that about a quarter of sales will go to the U.
The new location features classic flavors from the shop such as Cisneros’ favorite “Fresh Prince” as well as the new “Freshman’s Fix,” “College Crush,” “Professor’s Paradise” and “Study Cram.” Thirst will be open six days a week to help students and faculty fill their soda fix.
Getting settled at the U, Thirst’s only set plan is to work on perfecting its products. Making the best treats, mixing the best sodas and giving customers the best experience.
Kicking off his senior year, Cisneros has already finished his certificate in entrepreneurship and is now finishing up a degree in marketing.
With three locations and a catering line where they have three to five events each week, Cisneros is still figuring out what the company’s next step will be. Whatever comes next, Cisneros plans to work hard at it.
“We might even be working on an internal delivery line through to all the dorms. Students could use it through our Thirst app and then possibly we would just deliver it right to their dorms if they’re having a late study night or get home late or something,” Cisneros said.
Thirst is hiring students across campus, with a preference for those living on campus. For hours, menus and more, visit https://www.thirstdrinks.com.