What makes an ice pop such an engaging treat?
It’s fun, it’s simple, and it’s everything that you remember about summer—all on a stick. Try being mad while eating one. It’s your own little moment of bliss.
What were you doing before entering the ice pops business? Was this a natural progression, or was it a dramatic career shift?
I was a researcher for ABC News before this and during (I did double-duty for the first two years of people’s pops), and worked at the Late Show with David Letterman and MSNBC before that.
This may not seem like a natural progression, but as the economy collapsed in 2007 and 2008, I was spending most of my time at ABC News researching economy and finance, so I was starting to get a clearer grasp of how the economy, business, and capitalism work. This budding business acumen, combined with my daily binge of sweets, could potentially be described as a natural progression. Synergy!
Have you always lived in Brooklyn, or did you grow up somewhere else?
I’ve lived in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, for the past four or so years, but I’ve lived in various apartments around New York City and Brooklyn since 2004. I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, and went to school at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
What kind of person do you think thrives in New York City?
People who do, people who make, and people who create. New York City is great at attracting incredibly smart, creative, and competitive people.
How has New York City shaped you? How do you continue to integrate with and connect to the people and businesses in your city?
I remember moving here from Tallahassee in 2004 and being impressed by how smart and hardworking everyone was. It motivated me. It wasn’t enough to just work at a good job for forty hours per week. Everyone had a side hustle. With people’s pops, I’m now part of an incredible community of food entrepreneurs at the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg that have really helped put the Brooklyn food scene on the map. Beyond that, we have a kitchen at the old Pfizer factory in Brooklyn, which is now home to a bunch of small businesses across many disciplines.
Have you encountered any celebrities while living in the city?
In 2009, I ran into Jake Gyllenhaal seven times over the course of three days.
How did you come up with the name “people’s pops”?
Fellow owner Nathalie Jordi came up with the name people’s pops. I’m not sure what the genesis was for it, but it’s just a great name. I loved it, so I never thought to ask—it just works.
Where do you find inspiration for flavors? What are your favorite flavors?
I would say the baseline for inspiration is what we like or what we think will taste good. We also pull inspiration from teas we drink and cocktails we find around New York City. Some classics include watermelon and cucumber; nectarine, honey, and chamomile; raspberry and basil; plum, yogurt, and tarragon; and roasted red plum.
My summer favorites are always our watermelon pops and our cantaloupe pops. We tend to prep and flash freeze blackberries, raspberries, and the like during peak season. However, when you see we have watermelon or cantaloupe pops, it means those fruits are in season! Those are limited-time flavors we do for only a few weeks during the peak of summer.
How do you choose your flavors? Do you support farmers’ markets? Have you established relationships with growers?
We have classic flavors, we have complex flavors, and we have oddball flavors. You have to have a certain respect for the fact that people just crave strawberry pops. So we gussy them up with basil and balsamic vinegar to create larger, longer flavors. The added ingredients create a beginning, middle, and end spectrum for your taste buds.
We support farmers and farmers’ markets. We started out buying all of our produce directly from the farmers’ markets, and we eventually graduated to going directly to the farms and farmers. We visited Red Jacket Orchards a few years ago, which was tons of fun. But now, we buy so much fruit, we can’t really go to the farmers’ markets because we would ruin it for everyone else. But we still occasionally go to the markets for inspiration or to buy some herbs.
Do you push the boundaries of flavor? What are some out-of-the-box flavor combinations?
Corn pops—those are crazy good. A hat tip to my partner Nathalie for that flavor, which combines corn, vanilla, sea salt, and coconut cream. We only make a few hundred a year. It almost tastes like a cornflakes ice pop, but better. You have to try one if you’re lucky enough to come across them when we’re selling them.
You do events as well. What is offered at events? What is the reaction to the shave ice and ice pops?
We do cater events with shave ice and pops, and we do custom orders. Shave ice is always popular for weddings and parties, especially when we mix it with alcohol to create a melted shave ice Bellini. We can also customize the sticks with a message for your guests or your event, and that’s pretty popular for business or event promotions.
Is there a moment with a customer that stays with you?
Yes. I love the moments when parents bring their kids to people’s pops as a reward. It’s very special to know that we play that role in people’s lives. Three moments come to mind while I was personally working at the shops:
We had a child come in with her father, and she paid for a shave ice with 250 pennies that she had saved.
We had a mom bring her son in as a reward for getting straight As.
We had another mom bring her son in after he won his baseball game.
These are moments I remember from working at the shops, and they are moments that stay with me. It’s cool to know that people’s pops can sometimes mean more than just grabbing an ice pop on a nice day. I remember having those places I always wanted to go to as a kid, and it’s really great to be that place in other people’s lives now.
What does a typical day look like for you? How many ice pops a day are being sold? How do you handle the demand?
There really isn’t a typical day for me. I’ve had days that begin with doing an on-air segment at Access Hollywood, and then, two hours later, I’m loading a van with dry ice in Queens. We’ve built this business for about eight years now, and we built an ice pop factory in Brooklyn to handle the demand. On a busy day in July, we’ll sell a few thousand ice pops.
What inspired the cookbook? What were the challenges and joys of that process? What surprised you most about creating a book? Is it hard to photograph ice pops?
As we began running the business and coming up with new pop flavors each week, we realized we were naturally writing a cookbook. One winter, Nathalie sat down and translated some of our greatest hits into recipes people could make at home. We worked with a great photographer, so the photography was fun. I don’t think much of it came as a surprise because Nathalie has a background as a writer, I had worked in television, and our third business partner, Joel Horowitz, was an art director. So I would say, in retrospect, that writing a book was probably more in our wheelhouse than starting an ice pop company.
What do you love about having a business? What is the most challenging part?
I love the limitless amount of challenges it offers and the creativity it demands. I moved to New York City to work in a creative field television—and found a much larger creative outlet in starting a business. I also think business offers a great platform for individuals to create new things and change things. In 2008, we entered a business wherein most ice pops were filled with bad things for you. But we realized ice pops didn’t have to be a guilty treat—they could just be a treat. So we created the change that we thought needed to happen.
Do you have a life motto and business motto?
I think being optimistic is important. There are always a million reasons not to do something or why you can’t do something. But you only need one good reason to do something or to create something new. And it’s important for me to focus on that.
What are a few of your favorite places to go for food in New York City?
Momofuku Milk Bar, Dough, Melt Shop, and Coolhaus.
Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Marc Andreessen, Barack Obama, P. T. Anderson, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Wes Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino. I’m excited by the amount of change technology is bringing across industries, and I’m intrigued by Silicon Valley. Electric cars, reusable rockets, selfdriving cars—these are things that excite me. Beyond that, I’m also inspired and excited by the people who work for us at our shops. I’m always blown away by how hard a lot of these kids in New York City work, how many hustles they have, and how smart they are.
What is the atmosphere like at your shop? Do you have more than one location?
We have shops in the East Village, Chelsea Market, Park Slope, and the High Line, and at Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea on weekends. Every shop is different, but it’s definitely not about the shops—it’s about the pops. I like to think of our pops as the perfect accessory to a great walk on a beautiful day in New York City.
Where do you hope to be in five years? Do you have bigger dreams for people’s pops?
I’m excited to think about where people’s pops will be in five years. I would be happy if people’s pops just continues to be a great New York City institution, but we have also discussed selling pops more widely at supermarkets. The great thing about starting people’s pops with my friends is it really demystified starting a business and being an entrepreneur. I would love the chance to do it all again.
For more info, visit peoplespops.com.