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Sweet on frozen treats? GoodPop aims to please

Austin couple builds a business on Mexican-style frozen pops

Lindsey Bomnin
Isabella, 6, and Tiffany Guerra, 8, picked out their favorite Good Pop flavors at Zilker Park's Blues on the Green last month.

Manuel and Laura Flores turned on the TV one Saturday afternoon two summers ago to watch one of their favorite shows.

This episode of "Mexico: One Plate at a Time," featuring chef Rick Bayless , showed viewers how to make frozen treats, Mexican-style.

The Floreses were instantly reminded of their childhood, they said. Both grew up in Texas border cities and made day trips to Mexico, where they'd stop at the "paleteria" for frozen treats made from fresh fruit juices and exotic flavorings.

Unable to find these same fresh pops in Austin, they decided to make their own from scratch for their family and friends.

Two years later, what started as a way to satisfy a craving has turned into GoodPop , an Austin company that sells Mexican-style frozen treats in area stores and via traditional pushcarts on the street.

"It's something we couldn't find locally," Manuel Flores said. "We could never find anything without high-fructose corn syrup."

The goal, they say, is to follow the path of other Austin homegrown food businesses that turned into commercial successes.

The couple started out making "paletas" in their home kitchen. After a month, they realized they were going to need more room to keep up with the demand. Two summers ago, the couple moved their company into commercial space on North Lamar Boulevard and dedicated more time to the business.

Manuel had quit his job as a landscape irrigation program manager at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to take care of their two children, and now they were taking on their dream of owning a small business. Laura Flores kept teaching third grade at Walnut Creek Elementary .

They gave the company a name, PopSoCools, and used an all-natural recipe to concoct unusual flavors, combining unlikely ingredients such as pineapple and basil or mango and chile.

Last summer, a chance visit from a graduate of the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, Daniel Goetz, changed the course — and the face — of the company.

Goetz came into the North Lamar store, their only location at the time, as a customer and liked the product so much, he wanted to take part in the business's growth.

"Mango chile is really what got me hooked," Goetz said. "It's just unbelievable. It blew my mind."

"They needed a new brand that was more representative of the product they had," Goetz said. "I wanted to make it an Austin brand. I wanted the people of Austin to fall in love with the product."

Goetz, 23, now a co-owner of the company, came up with its current name and a colorful logo. There's a Facebook page and a Twitter account; a website is under construction.

The company started by making its presence known at First Thursdays, the monthly street fair on South Congress Avenue, and at the original Sunset Valley Farmers' Market.

"We really did our research on businesses like this that didn't do well," Manuel Flores said. "We studied why they went out of business and tried not to make those same mistakes."

From farmers markets, they wanted to work their way up to other local businesses, such as Whole Foods Market Inc.

They brought samples to both Austin Whole Foods stores, where managers have the latitude to choose some of the products the stores sell. GoodPop's products are now sold at the Whole Foods at the Gateway shopping center in Northwest Austin.

The pops are sold for $2.25 each in more than 20 Austin stores and restaurants, including Wheatsville Food Co-op, Royal Blue Grocery, Austin Java and Wahoo's Fish Tacos. There's a stand in the parking lot of Vinny's Ten-O-Three Cafe on Barton Springs Road.

This year, the company's first year operating full time, GoodPop has made about $24,000, which is what it made in total sales from June through December of 2009.

"It would have remained a small mom and pop had we not brought in Daniel," Manuel Flores said. "There's just no way that we could have reached so quickly the point we are at."

Manuel Flores and Goetz agreed that they want to build up local awareness of the company, by continuing their pushcart sales at festivals, concerts and other Austin events before mapping out more ambitious expansion plans.

With a production staff consisting of the Floreses and one other employee, along with two part-time retail employees, GoodPop is searching for another production space, Manuel Flores said.

"We'd like to be able to be in grocery stores and increase in distribution but still embrace our local market," Goetz said. "It's an Austin-grown product, and we see it being an Austin thing."

The company's local roots, as well as its tasty product, has helped it attract new customers, including Austin resident Mandy Reynolds.

"I'd much rather support GoodPop than Baskin-Robbins," Reynolds said. "I mean, it's all-natural."

lbomnin@statesman.com; 445 3812

Clarification: The story should not have said that Daniel Goetz owns 10 percent of the company.