The World of Coca-Cola is the stuff of a Coke fan’s dreams: The top-secret formula sits locked in a bank vault; more than 100 beverages can be sampled in the Taste It! Lounge; a huggable 7-foot tall polar bear — and that’s just the beginning!
What more could you want? Well, a truly knowledgeable guide would be helpful. After all, the behind-the-scenes history and workings of the famed beverage company are almost as vast as they are magical.
Here, three of the most knowledgeable tour guides at the Atlanta attraction — Steve Dietrich, Robert Angolia and Chicovia White — share insider insight into World of Coca-Cola’s most rewarding and unique elements:
Q: How long have you worked for Coca-Cola?
Robert Angolia: I’m a guest-relations ambassador and have been with the company for over eight years. I love working at what we like to call “The Home of Happiness” — located across the street from Centennial Olympic Park in Downtown Atlanta.
Steve Dietrich: I’ve been with the company for almost 14 years now. I started in guest relations at the original World of Coca-Cola, which was replaced with the current one. Within two years, I became a corporate VIP guide. Two-and-a-half years ago, we started offering public tours too.
Chicovia White: I’ve been with the company for five years now and I’ve been doing tours for four. I started in guest relations at the current World of Coca-Cola.
Q: How do you learn everything you need to know as a guide?
Robert: There’s a nice, big, thick manual that we’re given full of facts, dates, history and different milestones for the company. It did take a while to feel comfortable bringing the brand to life in a storytelling way — with a flow to it — and then also adapt it to your audience. But sometimes it’s easy. For instance, I met someone who went to the same Brooklyn soda fountain that I did as a kid, around the corner from my grandparents’ house. As a guide, part of what we do is about relating to people, sharing stories and listening to their memories. I’ll often remember their stories and retell them to other guests because they’ll hit home with somebody else too. You have to have the passion.
Chicovia: In addition to the big book, there’s a week of training in a classroom setting. Then there’s a month or so of different practice runs. On the third run, a manager or a qualified tour guide accompanies the new guide to assess progress as he or she leads a tour. We make sure that the feedback is always positive and the experience is enjoyable.
Q: What are the most important qualities for a WOCC tour guide to possess?
Steve: Being open, outgoing and friendly are what I consider three main qualities you need to be a tour guide. When I first started working here, I was actually terrified of speaking publicly. This job has opened up my personality. I’ve become more outgoing. Now, I can talk to just about anybody.
Chicovia: During each tour, you have to gauge and understand your audience. My passion for Coca-Cola is shared by the people who come through the attraction and I think being able to relate to and tap into that is what makes the tour better and more engaging. You don’t want to just supply facts; you want to share stories.
Q: How many people do you take on a given tour and what do they see?
Robert: We have one to a maximum of 10 people for public tours. Corporate can be up to 15 or even 60 people, but we split them up. Normally, we allot two hours, starting in the lobby, then the theater and loft area, then through the whole attraction. If people have questions, it can go a little longer. If corporate guests don’t have two hours, we accommodate that, too.
Q: What’s your favorite area of WOCC?
Steve: My favorite is the functioning bottling plant, where guests actually observe the process, then get to take specially designed bottles home. (That memento can’t even be bought in the World of Coca-Cola retail store.) The bottling plant has been automated for 100 years and the company has always been at the forefront of energy reduction efforts and water conservation. We have a packaging robot and people find that amazing.
Q: Do you ever get stumped by a question?
Steve: Being here for 14 years, I don’t get stumped too often. But it’s impossible to know everything about the company: The history is so vast. The great thing is that we have such a supportive staff here, so we can generally tell guests that by the end of the tour, we’ll have the answer. If we have to, we can also sit the guests down for the 10-minute movie and hightail it to the manager’s office to research. The very last resort is that we supply the answer after they leave, but we always want our guests to feel like they got what they came for. The number one question is, “Where is the secret formula made?” That is one that we cannot answer! We don’t know.
Q: Are there any tours that have been particularly special to you?
Chicovia: I’m a qualified ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter. When I first started, I gave a tour for three people: one who was deaf, one who was hard of hearing and one who was both blind and deaf. It was unique because I had to sign but also simultaneously sign in the blind person’s palm. This was a more intimate tour and very fun. They had a phenomenal time because they were able to ask questions, despite the language barrier. They actually sent me a thank-you email afterward.
Q: Who are your guests usually?
Steve: They come from all over the world, all walks of life. That’s another thing that makes this job so rewarding: You get to engage with people from different cultures. A great love for the brand is found all over. There’s no other product in the world that has that kind of international reach; that connection is what brings us together. If any one brand could bring world peace, it would be Coca-Cola.
Q: Have you learned anything about Coca-Cola that surprised you?
Robert: That we owned Columbia Pictures from 1982 to 1989. We have a duplicate Oscar in the Milestones Room from when “Gandhi” won Best Picture in 1982.
Q: What is the best thing about working for the company?
Robert: It’s fun being able to talk about a brand that’s been around for 127 years and to bring that experience to life for other people.
Steve: For me, it’s the family environment at the World of Coca-Cola and engaging with people from around the world. In school, I got in trouble for talking too much and now I’m getting paid for it! There’s camaraderie between the managers and the staff. The benefits are great. To be a tour guide, you have to have a confidence in the product and history that you’re relating. The wonderful things Coca-Cola does around the world give me pride in the company.
Chicovia: As a kid growing up in Atlanta, you’re aware of the brand. But when I started working here, it blew my mind how far-reaching this company is. It touched me to be part of something bigger. I didn’t know that my childhood treat would take me so far!