Pete’s Pops LLC
location: 2020 W. Wells St., Milwaukee
product: Gourmet popsicles
employees: 6 part-time
goal: Open a kitchen and retail shop on the near west side
experience: Founder Peter Cooney also has a full-time job as controller at The Pabst Theater Group, managing all of the finances and accounting for the Pabst, Riverside and other venues the company operates.
Coffee ’n Doughnuts. Blueberry Basil Lemonade. Sweet Corn & Blackberry Swirl. Roasted Peach ’n Jalapeño.
Innovation and experimentation have helped the team at Pete’s Pops come up with some wacky flavor combinations.[caption id="attachment_335022" align="alignnone" width="770"] Peter Cooney
Started in 2014 by Peter Cooney, the gourmet popsicle company sells a rotating menu of more than 50 pop flavors out of carts at farmer’s markets, pools, community events and businesses around Milwaukee.
“At the market, I usually try to buy the best fruit that’s available,” Cooney said. “Let’s say you walk in and there’s a giant batch of plums…so then you go to the kitchen and say, what can I do with this?”
Other times, the team is bored and dreams up a new flavor combination, like chocolate-covered potato chip. Or they get a request.
“City Lights Brewing and Lakefront Brewing both had us do beer pops for them this summer,” Cooney said.
There have been some misses, but some of the flavors, like avocado and salted watermelon, have surged in popularity.
At its summer peak, the startup sells about 1,500 pops per week out of three carts and via an increasing number of private events. The company has grown each of the four years it has been operating.
“On any given weekend this summer, we were doing about six events on Saturday and Sunday combined, so we had carts all over,” Cooney said.
Pete’s Pops rents space at the Milwaukee Center for Independence, 2020 W. Wells St., but plans to establish a permanent space on Milwaukee’s near west side in the spring. The company won the Near West Side Partners’ Rev-Up MKE live pitch competition in 2016 and committed to locating in the neighborhood.
Pete’s Pops will move into a 1,200-square-foot kitchen space at 3801 W. Vliet St. where the company will make its pops and sell them out of a walk-up window.
“I believe in the neighborhood,” he said. “I’ve had to move kitchens every year, so I’ve always had an eye on finding a permanent location, but it was never a super close reality.”
The first prize also included $10,000 in cash and $25,000 of in-kind services that have helped boost the growing business. That helps, since Cooney has completely self-funded the company so far. Revenue is about $70,000 per summer, and most of the profit he’s made has been reinvested in the business.