Casco Bottling Company served customers throughout greater Portland for half a century. Even today, it’s fairly easy to find old Casco soda bottles at antiques stores and thrift shops in Maine. Some may not realize that it actually started as a Coca-Cola bottler.

Mike Levi, president and owner of Casco Bottling Company for many years. South Portland Historical Society photo

The company was originally founded by Arthur Ardrey in 1927. Ardrey had previously worked for the Coca-Cola Company, of Atlanta, as a traveling salesman; around 1915, his sales territory covered the state of Maine.

After 12 years as a company representative, Ardrey decided to start his own business, acquiring the franchise rights for Coca-Cola for Cumberland County. In March, 1927, the business was incorporated as Portland Coca-Cola Bottling Works, with Ardrey as the company president and treasurer. His wife, Barbara, was listed as a director.

Ardrey was quick to get the business up and running. In March, 1927, he purchased bottling equipment and machinery from Miller Manufacturing in Bainbridge, Georgia. The company leased the building at 80 Bell St. in Portland and, in April, 1927, alterations were made to the building and the bottling equipment was installed. In May, 1927, the opening of the bottling plant was announced.

Within a few years, Ardrey was joined in the management of Portland Coca-Cola Bottling Works by Mike Levi.

Manuel “Mike” Levi was born in Portland in 1898, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Benjamin and Dora Levi. He attended Portland High School and graduated from Boston University in the early 1920s. He first learned the beverage business in the 1920s at Coca-Cola Bottling Co./Ingalls Bros. on Plum Street in Portland, hired at first as a bookkeeper, but then worked for them as a salesman.


Casco Bottling Company was located at 80 Bell St. in Portland. South Portland Historical Society photo

After Arthur Ardrey took over the Coca-Cola franchise, Levi continued working as a salesman, but he also worked for a time as a grocer along with his brother Samuel Levi in Portland. Around 1930, he began taking on a larger role at Portland Coca-Cola.

He married Lillian “Lil” Levine of Bangor in 1932 and, by 1933, he was the president of Portland Coca-Cola Bottling Works and Ardrey was the treasurer and general manager.

During the decade that the company operated as a Coca-Cola franchise, Portland Coca-Cola Bottling Works also sold beer, such as Wehle’s Mule Head beer, Colonial Ale, and Harvard Ale.

In 1937, a new company was formed by another former Coca-Cola executive, Turner Jones and Coca-Cola Bottling Plants, Inc. took over all of the franchises in Maine, setting up their headquarters on Main Street in South Portland.

This advertisement appeared in the Evening Express in May, 1937, when the company lost the Coca-Cola franchise and changed its name to Casco Bottling Company. Courtesy image

The loss of the franchise didn’t slow down Mike Levi. He simply changed the name of the company to Casco Bottling Company. While it could no longer sell Coca-Cola, Casco Bottling had its own full line of flavored sodas, bottled and sold under the Casco name. The company also picked up the license to bottle and distribute Orange-Crush and Chocolate Crush and immediately began heavily advertising that new brand. Also in 1937, Casco Bottling announced that it was now the sole distributor of Pabst beer and ale in Cumberland County.

Arthur Ardrey remained with Casco Bottling for about a year, helping as Mike Levi got things under control, then retired and moved to California.


Levi went to work continuing to build the business. In 1938, Casco began distributing Trommer’s Genuine Ale. Early in 1939, Casco announced that it was also now distributing Carling’s beer and ale in both Cumberland and York counties. In 1940, it became the sole distributor of Old Reading beer and ale in Cumberland County. In this way, Levi was able to continue growing the company.

Casco Bottling was a Levi family business for most of its history. Mike’s brother Samuel, the former grocer, came to work for Casco around 1942; he worked there for 30 years. Mike’s wife Lil also worked for the company as its bookkeeper. Mike and Lil’s two children – Robert, born in 1943, and Suzan, born a few years later – grew up around the bottling plant.

Mike Levi died in 1961 at the age of only 63. Lillian took over the operation of the business with help from her brother-in-law Samuel. After her son Robert graduated from Babson College, he also returned and went to work full-time for the bottling company.

At its peak, Casco Bottling was selling 18 varieties of its own flavored sodas – flavors like pale dry ginger ale, golden ginger ale, root beer, cream soda, orange, grape, strawberry, and fruit punch. In addition to Orange-Crush, Casco was licensed to bottle and sell the “76” brand of lemon-lime drink, Yoo Hoo chocolate drink, and Moxie. Some sugar-free versions were also offered. They also bottled the Sea View Beverages brand for a time.

A collection of Casco Bottling soda bottles. South Portland Historical Society photo

With the company floundering in the 1970s, Lillian Levi decided to sell the business. Two local businessmen, Robert “Danny” Lee and Jim DiPhilippo, decided to partner up and purchase the business. They each borrowed money, putting up their homes as collateral, to buy the business. The sale closed on March 23, 1976.

Lee had previously worked as a salesman for Yankee Distributors in Portland. At the time that Danny and Jim purchased Casco Bottling, Danny and his wife Margaret already owned and operated Terroni’s Market in Portland. Since Danny was busy learning the bottling business, one of his brothers-in-law stepped up to help run that store. Another brother-in-law, Richard LeClerc, came to work in the factory on Bell Street.


Jim DiPhilippo had been working full-time for the post office, but quit that job so that he could focus on Casco. Jim also had prior experience in the retail market business – Jim’s father Eddie had founded Eddie’s Variety on Auburn Street in Portland. Jim recalls that he first met Danny Lee at Eddie’s Variety, when Danny was supplying them with Carling’s Black Label beer from Yankee Distributors. He remembers Danny as “a bright, energetic man who had really made something of himself.”

It was a daring proposition to buy Casco Bottling. Neither Danny nor Jim had prior experience as actual soda bottlers. The business was a turn-key operation, though. They retained the employees and went to work to learn the business, working long hours alongside the existing employees.

Danny and Jim would alternate where they were working each week. One of them would spend the week working hands-on in the factory, while the other would be out knocking on doors, trying to develop new business, or reestablishing old accounts and trying to regain shelf space that had been lost. Then they would switch the following week. Jim remembers they both worked long days, sometimes 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., so they could learn all aspects of the business.

Jim’s son Ed also worked at the business. Ed was only 17 years old, but he helped in the factory, rode along as a helper with other drivers, and then had his own route, delivering to stores from Portland to Gray/New Gloucester and on up to Poland Spring. Jim’s son Anthony also helped out in the factory, sorting bottles.

Jim and Ed described the bottling operation – there was a large cypress water tank, a cistern mounted up high, where water would be conditioned before it was used. The water would then come from there down into huge vats where they would add liquid sugar and syrups, following the existing recipes. The mixture would leave the vats through a tubing system, filling the bottles on a conveyor which would then send them through both a labeling device and the machine that would cap the bottles.

When the bottles were ready, they would be packed by hand into six-pack cartons, and four six-packs would go into a case. A huge carbon dioxide tank was kept in the garage, not on the factory floor. In addition to two sizes of bottled sodas, they also sold “post-mix sodas” – so that restaurants could offer Casco sodas on tap. Casco Bottling would provide both the tanks containing the liquid mixtures and the canisters containing carbon dioxide.


Ed DiPhilippo remembers the Casco building on Bell Street: “I always remember the smell. There was a sweet, sticky smell when you went in the factory. Probably from years of spills and breakage – and soda soaking into the wood floors. The place had an aroma to it.”

According to Jim DiPhilippo: “When we bought [Casco Bottling], it wasn’t doing well. We brought it up to almost 3,000 cases a week.” He and Danny only owned the business for about seven or eight months, however. It was the bottle bill that ended the company (passed by referendum in November, 1976). The machinery that had come with the business was antiquated.

“When the bottle bill came out, it would have cost about $80,000 to buy the new machinery. We couldn’t afford it. We had just borrowed $30,000 [to start the business], Danny Lee did the same.”

They made the hard decision to sell off the business in parts – selling the accounts to one business, the equipment to another. Jim used his proceeds from the sale to buy his next business, DiPhilippo’s Pancake Shoppe at 617 Congress St. in Portland.

South Portland Historical Society offers a free Online Museum with nearly 17,000 images available for viewing with a keyword search. You can find it at and, if you appreciate what we do, feel free to make a donation by using the donation button on the home page. If you have photographs or other information to share about South Portland’s past, we hope you will reach out to us. South Portland Historical Society can be reached at 207-767-7299, by email at, or by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director for the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at

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