Top-notch ingredients, customizability and the sort of mobility that lets you put yourself in front of customers almost anywhere are all ingredients for a successful food concept these days.
If you can put that food on a stick, even better.
That was Anthony Fellows’ idea when he developed HipPOPs — gelato, frozen yogurt and sorbet on a stick that can be served from a food truck or kiosk. The concept debuted in June 2012.
“We market it as a pop-up gelato bar,” said Fellows, a veteran of the frozen treat business, who spent 20 years setting up kiosks, mostly in regional malls. The mall kiosks required operators to make substantial financial commitments that could be difficult to recoup, he said.
“The landlords would kill you,” he said. “You’d have to sign a 10-year guarantee, put $300,000 down, and try to make it back $5 to $6 at a time, and you’re fighting with five other guys who are also selling frozen desserts.”
With a mobile format, Fellows said he could put his resources into high-quality ingredients and provide a top-notch treat.
“And the consumer wins,” he said, noting that the little luxury — treats are priced at about $5 — is something virtually anyone can afford.
Frozen treat trucks are nothing new. In fact, they’re arguably the original food truck, as anyone who recalls the Mr. Softee or Good Humor songs from childhood can attest.
Fellows says his product stands out with its quality, which is in line with modern demands. All items are made with all-natural milk and without high-fructose corn syrup. The pops are also kosher, and most of them are gluten-free. They also have fewer calories than most frozen treats. Even the gelato is made with skim milk mixed with a little cream, giving it a total fat content of 7 percent. Premium ice creams can have in excess of 15 percent fat.
The gelato, frozen yogurt and sorbet is all made at Fellows’ commissary, or “microcreamery,” near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from which Fellows and his wife load their truck and service functions throughout south Florida.
Fellows can fit up to 20 flavors on the truck at a time, and if the venue, such as a wedding or birthday party, isn’t conducive to a truck, he sets up a kiosk.
“We market it as a pop-up gelato bar,” he said. “You can put the whole thing together — table, acrylic sneeze bar, dipping station, customizable menu — in less than 30 minutes.
“The exciting part of it is you’re able to customize your own bar and be in charge of your treat masterpiece,” he said.
Looking to franchise
Pricing for catered events can be as low as $100 for drop-off service, or $1,000 for a lavish bar mitzvah, Fellows said.
“Popologists” at the microcreamery make the bars in small batches. They items are loaded onto the truck the day before the event. Guests choose their flavor, chocolate dip — semisweet, milk or white — and toppings, including caramelized pecans or hazelnuts dusted with a little sea salt, coconut flakes, cinnamon graham cracker crumbs, roasted pistachios, finely ground Oreo cookie crumbs, crushed pretzel pieces and high-quality chocolate sprinkles.
Fellows also offers curated combinations, such as his favorite, The Godfather, pistachio gelato dipped in semisweet chocolate and encrusted with roasted pistachio pieces with sea salt. He also likes the All-American, a vanilla base with chunks of Oreo mixed in, dipped in milk chocolate and coated in Oreo crumbs.
A naked bar is around 3.5 ounces. “Fully dressed” bars with chocolate coating and toppings weigh in at around 5 ounces.
After a year and a half of fine-tuning the concept, Fellows said he is preparing to franchise.
“We made a really good living,” Fellows said. He and his wife run the business — she has built their social media following to more than 20,000 followers — and he only works 250 day a year.
“Last year we were done on Dec. 23, and we came back Jan. 3 or 4. … Money’s important, but aside from that, work-life balance is important, and typically that doesn’t happen in foodservice.
“We can park the truck and take time off whenever we want,” he said.
Popologists work 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. days, and everyone gets Sunday off.
“I’m an entrepreneur, but I recognize the need for balance, and my business model offers that,” he said.
Correction: Feb. 3, 2014 The name of HipPOPs’ founder, Anthony Fellows, was incorrectly stated in some places in a previous version of this story due to an editing error.