Even though summertime food in Minnesota is all about fried stuff, things on sticks, and treats by the bucket, on the hottest and stickiest days, after you've plucked the last greasy cheese curd from its paper tray, there's just one iconic treat that refreshes as much as it delights: a good old-fashioned popsicle. With warmer temps just around the corner, ice pop aficionados will be happy to know that friends and co-owners Sarah Newberry and Andi McDaniel are elevating that icy dessert to edible art, creating fanciful, grownup pops like Chocolate Lilac and Mango Chile. Their Kickstarter-backed business 10,000 Licks is dedicated to using local, organic, farm-fresh fruits, herbs, and even vegetables (they make a Vanilla Beet one) to create their inventive gourmet flavors.
This summer 10,000 Licks will be at rotating farmers markets, outdoor concerts, and events, and will be available as a 'pop share,' like a farm share, in which you prepay at the beginning of the season and get a box of ice pops for your home freezer every few weeks. (Follow them on Twitter for up-to-the-minute location information.) We caught up with Sarah Newberry during a few moments of downtime (she's also a certified music therapist) and discussed the trials and triumphs of owning your own business, haggling over a sheet pan, and a Zucchini-Vanilla Bean-Cayenne pop that still lives in infamy.
1. How did you get the idea to go into the business of ice pops?
I met Andi McDaniel, 10,000 Licks' co-founder, at the wedding of a mutual friend, and we both quickly realized that we loved creating delicious things, gardening, and supporting local farms, and loved Minnesota in the summertime. I shared with her some ginger ice cream I made for a party, and she said to me, "What do you think about trying to make and sell ice pops this summer?" That was last February, and we just started rolling with the idea; testing and creating flavors, getting permits and official paperwork to be a small business, buying equipment and supplies, finding customers and places to sell the pops. By midsummer we were elbow deep in organic strawberry-basil puree before we even knew what happened.
2. How was your experience of using Kickstarter to fund your business?
Using Kickstarter was a very positive experience for us. I think it's important to create a compelling project page, and I believe ours was fun, honest, offered tempting rewards, and truly shared the spirit of 10,000 Licks. We had so many friends, family, fans, and total strangers from across the country and the world (even Egypt!) who joined in and supported us. There were a few moments of panic when we weren't sure if we'd meet the goal and get funded, but overall the experience was filled with overwhelming surprise and gratitude at the enthusiasm and support from the community and the people in our lives for this business.
3. It seems like with that kind of product there would be some particular challenges with storage, transport, and service. Any good stories about bumps in the road when you were trying to figure that out? What type of equipment do you use?
Buying equipment was quite an adventure. Our mixing bowls and pots and pans from home very quickly proved to be tiny when we were making hundreds of pops. And there are things you can't even imagine you need or know exist until you are in a commercial kitchen actually in production. Trying to use best our limited resources, I was driving all over town to different restaurant equipment supply stores to find the best prices. These are often dark and dreary warehouses filled to the rafters with the sad remains of many restaurant owners' failed dreams, where you haggle for a dollar off a sheet pan. I haggled and sometimes won, and got the sheet pan, and was miserable. For a more modern, less miserable experience, I ordered molds and sticks and wax bags and things online. Using a shared commercial kitchen run by Bonus Vivus, we also encountered lots of other small-business foodie folks that were often happy to share their equipment and expertise with us.
Our first day selling to the public was at the Fulton Farmer's Market, and it was exactly as we hoped it would be, an entirely difficult and challenging experience that we would learn so much from! We had melting pops, weather too chilly for July, a thunderstorm, a canopy that blew away, a couple hours of the "market may be cancelled" while we huddled in the church nearby. On the upside, we also had a bunch of other market vendors who helped us with a smile and customers who actually wanted to pay us for a pop or two, which was so satisfying and validating after all the work we put in leading up to that day.
4. Can you tell us a little bit about your process for developing flavors? Where do you do most of your cooking, and who are the lucky few who get to do taste testing?
Thinking of and creating new flavors is my very favorite part of being an ice pop purveyor. There are challenges in the experimentation process; some combinations don't freeze well, some herbs aren't potent enough unless you use an astounding amount, some curdle, some have an icy texture when you want a smooth texture, some melt way faster than is acceptable for enjoying an ice pop on a hot day. After initial experimentation last summer, I've worked out a lot of these issues and the success per attempt ratio is a lot higher now. The most common inspiration for a new pop flavor is the bounty of Minnesota, such as berries, dairy, melons, fresh herbs. I quite enjoy the challenge of using something difficult to imagine in a pop, which lead to a Zucchini-Vanilla Bean-Cayenne pop that was very special, among others. I have tried many different ways to sneak tomato into a pop and have not yet succeeded. Many family and friends, as you can imagine, generously volunteer their taste buds when the 10,000 Licks experimentation kitchen is in action. The upcoming experiment is a Salt n' Peppercorn Fudge pop.
5. What are some of your favorite flavors, and what is your most successful/best-selling one so far?
The most popular flavors have been Strawberry Lemongrass, Watermelon Mint, Cantaloupe Ginger, and Lavender Lemonade. Apple Pie a La Mode was a hit in the early fall. My friend, mom, and sister-in-law all can't stop talking about the Almond Butter & Raspberry Jelly pop from last season. I like to satisfy both the customers that want something that is predictably appetizing and those customers that want to try unique combinations. The Sweet Corn pop was a big hit, some people were immediately intrigued, but it was challenging for others to get over the thought of corn in an ice pop. But, of course, once they tried it, they were hooked.