The Evolution of a Popsicle Business


Photo by Nathalie Jordi

To say that last weekend's New Amsterdam Market provided ample cause for reflection is somewhat of an understatement. The last time I was selling popsicles under the tarry eaves of the FDR Expressway, in June 2008, I assumed it'd just be a one-time deal.

Overdue for a trip to New York, I'd convinced myself that it would be fun to fly into town, throw together a bunch of popsicles (how hard could it be?), and sell them at the New Amsterdam, this cool-sounding project aiming to get a purveyors' market up and running in New York. My chef friend Colin let me use his kitchen, my friends Lucy and Ben helped me build a basic stand out of two-by-fours and chalkboard paint, and my high school prom date, David, and his roommate, Joel, rented a van, scoured the city for dry ice, and stamped popsicle sticks for what must've been a very boring evening.

A couple of beers into the popsicle profits, it was clear that our future held a lot more popsicles in it, as well as a lot more beer.

I tried to play it cool, but I was utterly terrified. By the morning of the market, I had ruined an entire tub of cherries that had taken Ben all afternoon to pit, Ben had sloshed soapy mop water into an enormous tub of freshly squeezed, very expensive organic lemon juice, the freezer was on the blink and had barely frozen the popsicles, the entire New York metropolitan area had apparently run out of dry ice, I hadn't slept in about 48 hours, and more money had been spent on this abusive, abortive endeavor than my plane ticket had cost. I could've just flown to New York for the weekend and taken a couple of meals at Per Se instead.

Well, I don't know what happened, but when we finally pulled into the New Amsterdam, everything clicked into place. The blueberry-yogurt-honey popsicle that had tasted like a minivan carpet when it initially came out of the freezer mostly unfrozen turned luscious and deep once the dry ice that the boys miraculously found god-knows-where worked its magic. We sold so many popsicles so fast that halfway through the market, we sold out of everything.

It was totally, totally, totally, totally awesome.

A couple of beers into the popsicle profits, it was clear that our future held a lot more popsicles in it, as well as a lot more beer.

Some 15 months later, David, Joel, and I own a (barely) profitable business. We have a van and business insurance and LLC papers and a business checking account and back pain. We've taken the popsicles to a beekeeping legalization gala, the rooftop of the Rivington Hotel, the Hamptons, the Jon Stewart show, and a party during which for four hours I endured an un-air-conditioned, 50-pound astronaut suit originally made for Johnny Depp. That may partly explain the back pain.


Photo by Nathalie Jordi

Never has a popsicle tasted so satisfying.

So, Sunday was the New Amsterdam again. It now takes me half the amount of time to make twice as many popsicles, mainly because we have more molds, the kitchen is bigger, and we have learned from many of our stupid mistakes. An interesting lesson: the price of growth is the absurd privilege of making bigger, more expensive mistakes.

We brought nearly twice as many popsicles as we had for the first New Amsterdam. We made sure to bring so many popsicles that we were guaranteed not to sell out. Well, we sold out again. It was still totally, totally, totally, totally awesome.