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Small Business A new crop of ice cream vendors gives new life to Dickie Dee bikes

Jacqui Keseluk, founder and co-owner of the mobile gourmet popsicle business Glory Pops, on the Halifax Common on Aug. 7, 2019.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

It takes Jacqui Keseluk about four hours to sell out, less on a hot summer day. Up and down the Halifax waterfront, Ms. Keseluk slings her frozen treats and builds her following. The feedback she hears most often from customers is, “Hey, I haven’t seen one of these bikes since I was a kid.”

She sells her Glory Pops out of a refurbished Icicle Tricycle, a modified trike with a freezer compartment. The Canadian-produced trikes are similar to the iconic Dickie Dee trikes that were a common sight during the late 1980s and early ’90s. The Dickie Dee company, which hired vendors to sell ice-cream products on the trikes, launched in the 1950s in Winnipeg.

Ms. Keseluk and a business partner purchased their bike this spring, paid for the business licence and insurance and got started, thinking they would sell a few frozen pops as a side business in the summer. Instead, Glory Pops has taken off, Ms. Keseluk has left her day job as a restaurant server and recently she hired her first part-time employee.

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Glory Pops is one of a growing crop of small businesses that are eschewing traditional retail and restaurant spaces and embracing the ice-cream bikes of last century as a way to reach customers and cut overhead costs.

The business’s treats are handmade by Ms. Keseluk, who describes them as “frozen smoothies on a stick.” She purées frozen fruit and mixes in her own homemade simple syrups to create flavours such as pineapple coconut, peanut butter and jam and blueberry mojito.

“Next year, we’re going to have to look into renting a larger commercial kitchen,” Ms. Keseluk said. “We just acquired our third commercial freezer. It’s all about freezer space because I don’t need a lot of space for the actual production. It’s more about storage for the inventory.”

Glory Pops is one of a growing crop of small businesses that are eschewing traditional retail and restaurant spaces and embracing the ice cream bikes of last century as a way to reach customers and cut overhead costs.

Darren Calabrese/The Globe and Mail

Susan Tung, owner of Pedal Parlor in Peterborough, Ont., also operates a business based on a fixed-up Dickie Dee bike. Ms. Tung buys her Popsicles wholesale, stocking up on classics such as Fudgsicles and buying from a small business in Toronto, Happy Pops. The handmade ice pops use organic cane sugar and offer grown-up flavours such as matcha and lemon mint.

“Kids, they like to see the thing that they’re familiar with, but the adults are more interested in the [Happy Pops]. Because they might have already had a million Rockets in their lifetime, a million Creamsicles in their lifetime.”

Most of her treats sell for about $3 each and she’ll make about a dollar of profit on a single item. And since Ms. Tung wants to keep Pedal Parlor a seasonal side job, she maximizes her profit potential when she’s out working. She often books private events such as corporate parties or wedding receptions. “It’s easy to sell to a private event because everyone knows what a Dickie Dee is, and people that are older, they like that nostalgia factor,” Ms. Tung said.

Simon Somogyi, the Arrell Chair in the Business of Food at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ont., says this play on memory and branding is key. Food businesses can have relatively low barriers to entry, he says, but in order for those businesses to turn profits, they have to tap into something bigger than what’s on the plate.

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“Food is relatively cheap and that means in some ways that the margins that you make in food are very tiny,” Dr. Somogyi explained. “To be profitable in a food business, you generally have to make a lot of product and then sell a lot of product, unless you make something that you can have a high margin on, a luxury good in the food area.”

Positioning hand-poured, small-batch frozen pops as artisanal treats could tap into that luxury and prompt patrons to shell out a bit more for them. Ms. Keseluk sells her pops for $4 a piece, or three for $10, and she works with wholesale clients as well. But she’s facing a challenge of what to do when the weather cools down.

Ms. Keseluk is experimenting with protein pops, in peanut butter and banana flavour with a chocolate protein powder mixed in, for example. She thinks there could be a market in gyms or supplement stores for the health-conscious customer once fall comes around.

Scaling the business is also a question with which Greg Unger is wrestling. Mr. Unger is the co-ordinator of PopCycle, the social enterprise arm of the Kamloops Food Policy Council (KFPC), an independent non-profit that addresses food insecurity.

Last year, the KFPC ran into a problem with its Gleaning Abundance program. Volunteers around the city would gather fruit from local trees, leave some for the tree’s owner, take some for themselves and give the rest to the KFPC. But soon, the council was overrun with fruit it couldn’t use fast enough. So, Mr. Unger decided to make and sell fruit pops with the excess.

As a way to keep costs down, Mr. Unger attached a trailer to the back of a road bike. The trailer holds a freezer. He sells the pops for $4 each at farmers’ markets, community events and local sports games, and all the profit funnels back into the KFPC.

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Now, Mr. Unger is also looking at how to expand the business. He’s toying with the idea of selling the pops in local delis and restaurants as a way to keep the business going over the winter months. But he also needs to make sure PopCycle doesn’t use more than its share of the gleaned fruit.

“Ultimately, we don’t want to be taking the fruit away from the KFPC. So, if it comes to that point where we’re needing more fruit than we get from the gleaning program, then we might start to move into a more traditional Popsicle business where we would go out and buy that fruit, but we would want to be buying it from farmers in the farmers’ market,” Mr. Unger said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Glory Pops’ vehicle as a Dickie Dee bike. It was manufactured by Icicle Tricycle.

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