New fla­vor

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Mike Hol­loway Staff writer

How an av­o­cado pop­si­cle led to a unique busi­ness near Wash­ing­ton Park that’s pro­vid­ing treats and new jobs.

The dog days of sum­mer are com­ing to an end, and that used to mean that Mil­wau­keeans were run­ning out of time to en­joy a frozen treat from sum­mer­time pop-ups like Pete’s Pops.

But now in its fifth sum­mer of busi­ness, the pop­si­cle cart that has won over so many cus­tomers with its dy­namic fla­vor com­bi­na­tions that it now has a per­ma­nent home at 3809 W. Vliet St.

Pete Cooney — the name­sake of and brains be­hind Pete’s Pops — was vis­it­ing his home­town of St. Louis when he was blown away by the fla­vor of an av­o­cado pop­si­cle that he pur­chased at a farmer’s mar­ket. De­ter­mined to recre­ate that fla­vor, Cooney bought pop­si­cle molds and be­gan to ex­per­i­ment.

The re­sult was a creamy av­o­cado num­ber that was so well re­ceived at a friend’s Fourth of July party that he de­cided to se­ri­ously pur­sue pop­si­cle-mak­ing. He con­ceived it as a side busi­ness to oc­cupy his free time.

Cooney’s in­ter­est in own­ing his own en­ter­prise ac­tu­ally be­gan some time prior to his av­o­cado-pop­si­cle epiphany, while he was work­ing full­time as an ac­coun­tant for The Bar­tolotta Restau­rants.

“I was just re­ally into food and, like a lot of peo­ple, I had talked about open­ing my own busi­ness some­day,” Cooney says. “I saw in other cities that there were pop­si­cle com­pa­nies pop­ping up, and I thought that was a cool busi­ness model that no­body was do­ing here.”

Cooney pur­chased a small push cart and rented a com­mer­cial space for pro­duc­tion pur­poses. He went on to have a suc­cess­ful sum­mer de­but.

“Peo­ple liked the prod­uct and it was fun and I didn’t lose any money, so I did it again next year and signed up for a farmer’s mar­ket and booked even more events,” Cooney say.

Cooney grad­u­ally in­vested more and more money into Pete’s Pops. He hired em­ploy­ees and started book­ing more events. Now, Pete’s Pops has a brick-and­mor­tar pres­ence that serves both pro­duc­tion and re­tail func­tions.

Pete’s Pops will stay open as long as the weather will per­mit, but Cooney doesn’t want the store­front to have de­fined hours — just like a pop­si­cle stand.

It might seem im­prac­ti­cal to run a pop­si­cle busi­ness in a state where the weather is only ap­pro­pri­ate for a few months each year. But Coo­ley re­ally en­joys how fun pop­si­cles can be — he’s thrilled by see­ing fam­i­lies out­side de­vour­ing his products in the sum­mer, mak­ing the most of the sun’s brief ap­pear­ance. He is also proud of the af­ford­abil­ity of the pops. Neigh­bor­hood kids can scrounge up some change and buy pop­si­cles the same way they would from an ice-cream truck. His products are also healthy, made from fresh in­gre­di­ents and real sug­ars — no ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vor­ing or col­or­ing is used. Au­then­tic fla­vors keep Pete’s Pops above the com­pe­ti­tion sum­mer af­ter sum­mer.

Prices range from $2 to $4.

CRE­ATIVE FLA­VORS

While the ini­tial av­o­cado pop­si­cle was the first and most pop­u­lar, the fla­vors get wack­ier and more cre­ative from there.

Cooney is ex­cited par­tic­u­larly about the Sweet Corn and Black­berry Swirl — a pop­si­cle made from lo­cally grown sweet corn made into a cus­tard with a swirled black­berry mix in the mid­dle. An­other is the Cho­co­late Cov­ered Po­tato Chip — a po­tato chip cus­tard dipped in cho­co­late.

“It’s fun to sur­prise peo­ple and get re­ac­tion out of them,” Cooney says. “It’s fun to see peo­ple that are skep­ti­cal about a fla­vor try it and see them change their mind right in front of your eyes.”

Now, Pete’s Pops will only be open on week­ends. But next year, Cooney hopes to have week-long busi­ness hours. Pete’s Pops has al­ready be­gun spread­ing its reach to the com­mu­nity, and he hopes to ex­pand it far­ther by build­ing re­la­tion­ships with some of the larger venues in Mil­wau­kee, such as the Mil­wau­kee County Zoo, Fiserv Fo­rum and Sum­mer­fest.

But he’s com­mit­ted to his cur­rent pres­ence near Wash­ing­ton Park, where he has par­tic­i­pated in com­mu­nity out­reach events such as Wash­ing­ton Park Wed­nes­days and Na­tional Night Out be­fore putting down roots in the neigh­bor­hood.

Even be­fore Pete’s Pops’ grand open­ing on Aug. 18, Cooney was ap­proached by six neigh­bor­hood high school kids about po­ten­tial jobs. De­spite his hec­tic sched­ule get­ting the build­ing ready for open­ing, he worked in sched­ules for each.

“We think that pop­si­cles can kind of bring the com­mu­nity to­gether,” Cooney says. “It brings dif­fer­ent peo­ple over to the shop to en­joy this fun and pos­i­tive prod­uct. That’s part of our mis­sion: to give back as much as we can.”

On the web: pe­te­spops.net.

PHO­TOS: MIKE HOL­LOWAY

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