Interview with Sarah Stewart of POP Nation

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If you want a scoop of ice cream, just go to your freezer. If you want a cold, delicious, make-your-mouth-sing and wake-up-your-taste-buds experience, find a POP Nation cart. With over 80 flavors in their arsenal (yes, you read that correctly), you will not be bored. You want me to prove it? Okay: Mango Coconut with Black Sesame, Sea Salted Dark Chocolate, Blackberry Mojito, Watermelon Mint, Thai Iced Tea . . . I could go on forever. I had the privilege of talking to one of the founders, Sarah Stewart, about how they got started in the land of POPS and some highlights of their POP business. Read on, and try not to drool on your keyboard.


Sarah, your website sort of humorously explains how Pop Nation got its start with a move across the country, late nights, and dirty diapers.  But really— what was the genesis of POP Nation? Whose idea was it, and how did you actually decide to start peddling all those mouth-watering flavors?

It’s true, our birth story isn’t exactly well defined on our website. In late May 2011, Annie, Mark, and I were at a mutual friend’s dinner party when the McGintys and I both declared we had some news to share. Shockingly, our news was the same: we were planning to start a food cart. I was ready to leave my desk job, and Annie and Mark were interested in a seasonal summer business. We had a series of meetings over the next few weeks — late nights, dirty diapers, and beers included. We knew we wanted a fourth partner, and I couldn’t think of someone with whom I’d rather work than my brother, Tim, who was moving to San Francisco that week. Everything fell into place.

The McGintys had already done research on potential products, so the pop idea originally came from them. It only took a few test pops and some number crunching to get Tim and me on board with the product. There are so many reasons why we love gourmet pops: you can turn any flavor combination into a pop, we get to work with some wonderful farmers, the flexibility of the product has allowed us to be anywhere from The America’s Cup to a wedding to inside a corporate office… just to name a few.


Your motto is “Freedom From the Scoop.” What do you have against ice cream? Is it the inconvenience of the bowl & spoon?

No hard feelings, ice cream, we still love you.


Besides the luscious, inventive flavors of your pops, what’s special about your popsicles that sets them apart from all the rest?

The taste! And the texture! They’re vegan and gluten-free, and they’re made with fresh local produce, organic whenever possible. We’re very conscious to not over-sweeten, and we don’t use refined white sugar. We work with small farms like Cloverleaf, Alba, Eatwell, and others. They’re high quality pops made with love, and it shows. One might say the proof is in… the pop.


Is it true that you get your morning jolt from a few Sea Salted Dark Chocolate Espresso POPS? I think I might like to start that habit. What other favorite flavors do you have?

It has certainly happened! But more often, my morning routine involves a french press of dark roast while I sift through pop related emails. I usually eat my first pop about 11 a.m.  Top on my list these days is our Spicy Plum Apricot with its refreshing, incredible fruit flavor that comes from apriums from Capay Organic and a peppery kick toward the end.


Are your POPS sold in stores, or just from carts?

Right now you can find our pops in three locations outside our regular farmer’s markets, street sales, and events. 1) Rock Candy Snack Shop in Bernal Heights, San Francisco; 2) Serendipity Chocolate shop in San Carlos; and 3) the Marinwood Community Pool in San Rafael. We plan to increase our retail locations in 2013.


Do all four of you invent new flavors, or is there one of you who does most of the inventing and testing?

In the beginning, all four of us were constantly creating and testing pops. Now that we have a fairly solid repertoire to choose from, and lots of other pop related work to be done, the focus is more on choosing a recipe that uses ingredients available from our partner farms. Occasionally this means we need to think up a new recipe, like when Capay Organics called to say they had 400 lbs. of apriums that were at peak perfection and needed to be used this week… so to the test kitchen we went! I also can’t read a menu or recipe without thinking, now that would be a great pop flavor, or ew…not a pop. Sometimes one of us will love a flavor and others won’t.  My Gazpacho pop was compared to frozen salad dressing, but I thought it was decent if you could mentally prepare your tongue for savory on a stick.  The general rule is if it doesn’t have the “wow” factor for the four of us, then the flavor doesn’t make the cut.


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