I’m not sure there’s much that says "summer" more than a frozen popsicle on a blisteringly hot summer day.
Peter Cooney, owner of Pete’s Pops, a new frozen treat cart that made a sold-out debut this past Saturday in the Third Ward, says that one of his first memories of the frozen treats involves Flintstones Push Ups, frozen sherbet treats that came in flavors like DabbaDabbaDoo Orange, Bedrock Berry and Lime Rock Lime.
"I remember eating them with my friends on hot days," he says. "And, to this day, they still say ‘summer’ to me."
Pete’s Pops are a far cry from the corn syrup-infused treats of his childhood. Made with fresh fruit – much like Mexican style paletas – the pops will be available in a wide variety of flavors, including strawberry basil, pineapple jalapeno, Arnold Palmer and raspberry – that change with the seasons.
"I don’t use corn syrup or added preservatives," Cooney explains. "And there’s actually a relatively small amount of sugar. They’re healthy and all natural, but they’re a treat. And I’ll be serving flavors that you can’t get anywhere else."
Cooney’s idea for starting a Popsicle cart has been in the making for a number of years. But, it all started at a St. Louis farmers market where he happened upon a frozen-fruit pop vendor.
"I was home, visiting my parents, and we stopped by to sample some pops," he says. "It seemed like such a cool idea."
After sampling one of their avocado flavored pops, he says he was inspired.
"I was going to a Fourth of July party not long after," he says. "And I thought it would be funny to bring avocado pops, along with some guacamole."
When the pops were a hit, Cooney was inspired to experiment with other flavors like raspberry lime, blackberry mint, chocolate sea salt, toasted coconut and watermelon mint.
He also started researching frozen pop vendors in other states – like People’s Pops in New York and King of Pops in Atlanta. He emailed a variety of them and says they were helpful in giving him hints and tips for starting his business.
"I got bogged down in the details for two years, and now finally I’ve decided to just roll with it," he admits. "This summer I’m just trying to dip my toes in the water and see how things go."
But, Cooney says credits his participation in the Hottest Kitchen Entrepreneur contest this past year with really pushing him forward to launch his business.
"My friends were always really supportive," he notes. "And once I’d done all the research to participate in the contest, it became easier to think about making it a reality."
He also credits his employment at Bartolotta’s Restaurant Group with giving him confidence to move forward.
"It’s great to see how someone like Joe Bartolotta has really made it happen," he says. "He’s an inspiration."
Cooney, who currently makes his pops at Kasana in the Third Ward, says he has been working with Pete’s Fruit Market to source fresh seasonal fruit. And he plans to push out his pops at locations in the Third Ward, East Side and Downtown this summer.
"I’ll be making pops every night after work," he says. "And I’ll be out as often as I can on Thursday and Friday nights, as well as Saturdays."
Pops will sell for $3 each, or two for $5.
Cooneys says he’ll begin with one cart serving the downtown area this summer, and potentially add one other cart in Wauwatosa before the end of the season. But, he’s making no promises.
"Ultimately, I’d love to have more carts – one for each part of town," he says. And I’d also love to sell my pops in grocery stores like Outpost, or to restaurants like BelAir Cantina. But, I’m taking things one step at a time."
Pete’s Pops already has one corporate catering event scheduled for this summer, and Cooney says he’d love to book more events and weddings.
He says one of his favorite parts of his new job is hanging out outside and meeting new people.
"Recently, I was in New York for a music festival and I got to talk to one of the owners from King of Pops," he tells me. "He’s a regular guy just like me. I loved his vibe, and it was really inspiring."
Ultimately, Cooney says: "I just want to be a chill Popsicle dude."
Join Pete’s Pops for a Grand Opening Celebration this Saturday at northeast corner of St. Paul and Broadway from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Follow @PetesPops on Twitter for more information and to track the cart’s location.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.