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-and-mortar 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 Cooney 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.
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.”