Keeping cool with The Pop Stop crew

By Emily Scott

Matthew Dick and his younger brother Barrett Kendall have always been interested in business. The only question was what they’d do.

When they recently acquired two mobile trailers and got their best friend Neal Shannon on board, they saw the perfect opportunity to create their first business pursuit, which became The Pop Stop, Inc., a food truck that doubles as a catering business; it serves homemade artisan ice pops to the Champaign-Urbana community.

“(Kendall) and I have been headed into business since we were little kids; it’s only natural that one of our life-long friends has joined us,” Dick said.

Through The Pop Stop, which will be in its second year of operation, Dick said they hope to learn as much as they can about business while creating a top-notch products that people love.

“Basically, I make the pops, (Kendall) sells the pops, and (Dick) keeps track of the money,” Shannon said.

So far, Dick said the response they’ve received from customers about their ice pops has been both exceptional as well as encouraging.

“Generally, (customers will) bite into it, turn around and be like, ‘This is the most amazing thing ever!’” Dick said.

The team described how coming up with flavors is part of the fun. The pops can be based in gelato, frozen yogurt or sorbet. Flavor ideas usually come from researching online, transferring recipes for other treats into frozen form, or walking down grocery store aisles and mixing together whatever sounds good.

“(Shannon’s) the king of coming up with unusual flavors,” Kendall said, citing their maple bacon cookie dough pop, a surprising hit with customers that uses caramelized bacon and homemade cookie dough.

Some of the more popular flavors include strawberry kiwi, strawberry rhubarb pie and banana pudding.

“I get that question all the time, and I don’t really know what to say,” Shannon said, regarding what flavor is most popular. “I just give different answers every time because there’s so many different flavors and an infinite amount we could come up with. They’re all good.”

Though they keep some of the more popular flavors in the rotation, they change them up every few weeks. Usually three to six are offered each time they set up shop.

Ultimately, they hope to one day create over 1,000 pop flavors, but that might take a little longer.

“I think we have a thousand flavors; we just don’t have names for them all yet,” Shannon said.

The ingredients for pops usually come from co-op grocery stores or local farmers markets and are made in small batches to keep the quality high.

“This stuff is definitely for somebody who has a sweet tooth; it’s not like a salad, but it’s real fruits and stuff. It has antioxidants and nutrients,” Shannon said.

Their passion for food and the food business has led them to create a philanthropic mission for The Pop Stop: donating to local and global charities that combat malnutrition and water scarcity.

“One thing that people struggle with all over the world is a lack of food; it’s one of the basic needs that everybody needs,” Dick said. “As we get more funds, we certainly plan to kick it up.”

In addition to selling from their hand-painted truck, The Pop Stop team also caters events and parties.

They plan to have their truck out in time for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon on Saturday. Going into the upcoming season, the team has big plans, including adding popcorn to the menu, trying new locations on campus and adding bike carts to expand their selling outlets.

The bike carts can sell anywhere there’s a sidewalk, providing a more on-the-go Pop Stop experience. Kendall explained how one of the main challenges in the business’s first year was figuring out the best places to sell, so the bike carts will allow them to access more places with ease.

The Pop Stop has gained publicity by being present at different festivals (such as Taste of Champaign-Urbana), launching a sampling program to local businesses and expanding into new catering opportunities such as kids’ birthday parties and park district sporting events.

“Anywhere where there’s people, that’s definitely this year’s goal: to get our faces out there,” Dick said.

They hope their efforts, along with an increased social media presence, will establish their name in the C-U food truck scene, which is an evolving and exploding community that was voted as the #19 top U.S. city to open a food truck by Mobile-Cuisine.com in 2013.

Kendall said they view being “young pioneers” and being in C-U as a huge advantage. He said they feel like the environment is less competitive and more focused on learning and working together with other food trucks.

“They understand the same kind of stuff that we’re going through,” Dick said. “They’ve all opened in the last year or two — everybody’s learning at the same time.”

What sets them apart, in their opinion, is the quality of the product they serve, which is focused on being healthy, fresh and often locally grown.

But their favorite part of running their own business is seeing the customers’ reactions and being able to work with each other.

“There’s not many jobs you get to choose ‘Can I work with these guys?’” Kendall said.

Looking forward, they said they’re going to follow wherever the road takes them — literally. Once they prove their business model, Dick said they hope to take The Pop Stop outside of C-U.

“There’s three of us. Who knows what’s going to happen in five years?” Shannon said. “Maybe we all move somewhere and start one everywhere, you know? That’d be cool.”

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