One of the main reasons I wanted to start writing a blog was to force myself to reflect on the process of building a business.
Although King of Pops has only been around for five-ish years, it’s been difficult to put myself back into the honest mindset that I had during those first days. However, recently we’ve been going through the process of opening two “pop bars.” In Atlanta and Charleston we’ll be opening brick and mortar locations that will sell pop inspired cocktails (imagine a popsicle instead of ice in a margarita, pimm’s cup or dark & stormy), pops dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with fun toppings, thoughtful grilled cheeses, and a salad straight from our farm.
We’ve learned a lot since starting King of Pops, but in many ways this feels like we’re starting over. So far we’ve nagged bartenders, restaurant owners, experienced contractors and a food stall general manager to tell us what we need to know. Our opinions swing wildly depending on who we’ve spoken to most recently. Great ideas one day may be completely forgotten by the next.
There is no telling which of these pre-launch experiences will be the difference maker, but I know they will help guide us down the “right” path. We are walking into the unknown once again.
Looking back it’s a little easier to see what shaped us. Here’s a snapshots of a few of my most important experiences prior to selling my first pop.
West Coast Swing
The paleta, our inspiration, is much more prevalent in Latin American communities. My Spanish is only so-so, and I needed to communicate with customers and operators if I was going to get anything out of the trip. Plus, I’d never been to Southern California and that seemed wrong.
I flew into San Diego, rented a Ford Focusand went to every popsicle/paleta business I could find between there and San Francisco. Short on dollars, and inspired by Jack Kerouac I slept on the side of the road. I bought my first (and only) pack of cigarettes and managed to smoke less than four of them.
While this trip may have been partially an excuse to drive up Highway 1, I tried so many different amazing new flavors. I wrote what I liked and didn’t like, and started dreaming in earnest about what my pops would be like. I knew I needed to try and incorporate
a bit of the magic that made the paleta a timeless dessert.
He gets me!
In general, when I told people that loved me that I was going to open a popsicle business they were supportive, but i could tell just below the surface they were worried about me. And the people I didn’t know — I generally couldn’t get them to listen to me.
There was one major exception. Jake Rothschild, founder of Jake’s Ice Cream, also ran the shared kitchen at The Irwin Street Market. I’ll never forget the first time I spoke to him. Instead of the leaned back, arms crossed posture I’d become accustomed to when pitching my business prelaunch, I can remember Jake leaning forward in his seat, nodding with enthusiasm as I told him what I wanted to do.
Sure, I was a potential customer for him, but I could tell he believed in the idea. At that point to hear someone who had successfully started their own business validate my ideas felt really good.
We struck a deal, and in addition to a lot of positive energy, he rented me a space that would make legal production a possibility. There are hundreds of hilarious, insightful and interesting stories from our time at Irwin Street Market, but when I was getting started those first few conversations with Jake meant the world.
The good people of People’s Pops
I wrote personal letters on my typewriter asking several of the east coast popsicle business owners if they’d let me work for free with them for a few months. Understandably so, most didn’t respond. However, Nathalie Jordie, one of the owners from People’s Pops responded and said she would ask her partners if they would be willing to help. A few weeks later I was on a plane to New York.
More than production technique or business strategy, the gang at People’s Pops showed me how much work running a business is, AND that it can be fun. Their DIY brand image was approachable and fun. They had their hands in so many pots and in my few weeks there I was able to see how a simple conversation could turn into a business shifting opportunity.
They let me cater an event on a New York City rooftop. “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z had just come out, and I can remember watching the sunset with people enjoying pops in a hot tub. The song was blaring and it seemed like a dream. This was really happening and it kind of was a dream.